The Davis school board approved a budget for the 2013-14 school year, followed through with a routine annual review of rates for two community facilities districts and two school district parcel taxes, and heard another round of public comment from parents and teachers who are dismayed by the way the school district is proceeding with decisions relating to the Alternative Instructional Model, formerly Gifted and Talented Education program.
Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby outlined the school district’s budget, noting that for the first time in five years, it is not a “gloom and doom” document. Colby said that after several consecutive years of outright reductions in state funding as well as deferrals, the Davis district now stands to see an increase in funding in the range of $1.6 million during the coming year. Colby said that the new funding “will be used to cover inflation increases, program cost increases and (a) statutory cost increase. It will also be used to start the restoration of class size reduction for K‐3 classes towards the new state target of 24 students” per classroom.
Colby noted that the district’s budget is based on what is currently known about the state budget that was approved by California legislators on June 14. That budget has yet to be signed by Gov. Brown (who has until June 30 to act). Colby also noted that while the new state budget includes the Governor’s proposed Local Control Funding Formula for K-12 education, the California Department of Education has yet to develop the framework of regulations that will govern the routine daily procedures of implementing the Local Control Funding Formula, as well as the details of the state accountability measures that will track how local school districts are using state money. Similarly, the CDE has not yet fleshed out the details of how the roughly $1 billion in state funding to help local school districts implement the new Common Core academic standards will be distributed to school districts. (The Davis district will likely receive a bit over $1 million in Common Core implementation funds.) The school district’s 2013-14 budget is sure to be revised as firmer details about the new state budget emerge over the next few months.
The school board also conducted the annual review of the rates for Community Facilities District No. 1 (which covers the entire school district, and collects funds for school facilities), Community Facilities District No. 2 (which covers only portions of the school district), and school parcel taxes Measure C (approved by Davis area voters in March 2013) and Measure E (approved by Davis area voters in November 2012). There was no comment from the public or the school board trustees as the school board held the required public hearing and then approved a resolution establishing the rate for the coming year for each of two Community Facilities Districts and each of the two parcel taxes. (Measure E is being challenged in Yolo Superior Court by local parcel tax opponent Jose Granda, with court hearings expected later this summer; but Granda was not in the audience during Thursday night’s school board meeting.)
The school board also heard another round of public comment from several parents and teachers connected to the AIM program. Some of the comment related to the AIM coordinator position, which has long been held by Deanne Quinn, who retired several years ago, but then returned on a part-time basis on a sequence of one-year contracts. Thusfar, the school district has not staffed the AIM coordinator position for the coming 2013-14 school year — a point that drew comment from several speakers. Parent and teacher Tracy Skinner expressed concern that “right now I do not have a program coordinator to defer to” and also worried that when the coordinator’s position was posted earlier this year, the opening was posted with fewer prerequisites. Skinner called on the school board to repost the coordinator’s job “with the (same) requirements used last year” and added that “Quinn is the only qualified candidate.”
Katherine Unger expressed concern that the requirements for the coordinator position had been “dumbed down” and worried that since the position is part-time “there is simply no time for a learning curve” for a new hire. “I would ask that the coordinator position be relisted with prior requirements as we should consider nothing less,” Unger said, adding that some parents might look at other school districts or charter schools if they feel the program is being diluted.
Robert Erwin spoke of “decreasing levels of funding” and secretarial support, and the loss of an AIM (GATE) program psychologist, and argued that “the best candidate for the job is on the job.” Erwin called on the school board “send a clear message that decreasing standards have no place,” and worried that “the days of successful parcel tax campaigns will be over and students will leave for charter schools and other districts” if parents perceive the program to be in decline.
A letter from retired teacher Debbie Nichols Poulos (read by another retired teacher) expressed concern about “watered down criteria” for the coordinator position, which she described as “clearly a tactic to weaken and ultimately destroy the program.” She likewise asked the school board to readvertise the coordinator’s position “with proper qualifications.”
Parent Alicia Silva also expressed concern about the posting of the coordinator’s position “stripped of qualifications,” expressed concern about the district’s implementation of a selection process for AIM earlier this year that includes a lottery-based process, and worried that the program’s “advisory committee is disabled.” (Earlier this year, the school board voted to have the GATE Advisory Committee reorganized.) Silva also urged the board to retain Quinn.
Asked for a comment after the meeting, Superintendent Winfred Roberson told The Enterprise the district’s current (and ongoing) process of developing a new five-year master plan for AIM “has created much community discussion and debate. For the past nine months, I have listened to diverse perspectives about appropriate classroom placement for high-achieving students and weighed them against educational research and community expectations. What I can say is all things GATE/AIM related are subject to close scrutiny by Davis educators and community members.”
Roberson added that “It is true that (the district’s human resources office) has not interviewed candidates for the GATE /AIM coordinator position yet. We hold the position in high regard and will select a quality leader who not only understands GATE/AIM procedures but is also able to bring the community together over this controversial topic. We value a coordinator who is an advocate for high achievers as well as students who are not reaching their full potential. We value a coordinator who can successfully implement the plans and recommendations that are congruent with our belief in the inclusion of all students. We trust that these qualities and skills in a GATE/AIM coordinator are supported by all Davis stakeholders.”