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School board hears encouraging news on budget

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From page A1 | March 22, 2013 |

After five consecutive years of budget cuts from the state, the Davis school board heard an encouraging budget forecast on Wednesday night from Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby.

Colby advised the trustees that the Davis district is probably looking at an increase in state funding in the range of about $100 per pupil during the coming budget year, which will work out to a total of $800,000 to $1 million.

He stressed that it is still too soon to say how much of an increase in state funding that California school districts will receive, since final action on the state budget probably won’t come until June. And an additional $100 per student will only go so far in a school district with around 8,000 students, several school sites with backlogged facilities needs, aging computers and teachers who haven’t seen a cost of living adjustment in several years. But nonetheless, an increase is an increase, even if it only makes up a small portion of the previous cuts.

“We’re taking a turn, things are getting better,” Colby said.

Trustee Susan Lovenburg said: “I’m all in favor of good news.”

Colby swiftly added that “it took us five years (of cuts) to get to where we are” — as a result of the state budget cuts, the district has significantly fewer teachers and much larger class sizes than it had in 2008.  “It’s going to take five or six years to get back to where we want to be,” he said.

He suggested that the trustees plan a budget workshop for sometime in May to start thinking about what budget items should be the highest priority so the district will be ready when and if any increase in state funding becomes available.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for (that) discussion,” Assistant Superintendent Matt Best said.

Frank Thomsen, president of the Davis Teachers Association, predicted that “discussions of employee compensation will bear down quickly when this comes.”

Several other items on Thursday’s agenda were budget related. Associate Superintendent Clark Bryant gave a report on the district’s progress in implementing the new Common Core academic standards, which California and most other states have adopted. As part of the new Common Core standards, California will be switching from the current paper-based STAR tests to a new set of computer-based assessments. Several students at the Davis School for Independent Study piloted a test of the new online assessments recently.

Bryant said that the district will probably need computers with more RAM, as well as additional bandwidth at school sites, before the district will be completely able to implement the new computer-based assessments district-wide.  He added that Kim Wallace, the district’s recently hired director of instructional technology, is working on assessing how much work the district will need to do in this regard.

Wallace is still serving as half-time principal at King High School, in addition to working as many hours as possible in her new role as a technology director. On Thursday night, the school board held a moderately lengthy discussion of the role and working hours of the King High principal position, with an eye toward hiring a replacement for Wallace in that slot.

District staff recommended taking the King High principal position from half-time (0.5 full-time equivalent, or FTE) up to eight-tenths of full time (0.8  FTE), noting that King High is currently serving more students than in the past, and that there are difficulties that arise during the school day when a half-time principal is not present on the campus. This situation has been somewhat less challenging with Wallace in the post, since the other half of her job with the district is centered at the district office, just a block from the King High campus, which has made it possible for Wallace to go back and forth quickly. But that situation would likely change under a newly hired King High principal.

Trustee Gina Daleiden wondered if the district might post the job as a half-time opening and see if the right sort of candidate might apply, rather than boosting the job to 0.8 FTE. Trustee Tim Taylor wondered if a boost to 0.7 FTE might be sufficient.

Those remarks prompted several King High teachers to come to the microphone. Part-time teacher Uta Russell said “We don’t want to continue to be in a situation where the alternative school that serves the most at-risk students (in the district) does not have an administrator on site at all hours. We recently had a lockdown (due to a person who police believed was carrying a gun in a nearby park) with just myself and the school secretary on site, and it was scary. There is a much higher need at King for support and structure, I feel we need more consistency than a half-time principal can provide.”

Teacher Cathy Haskell said: “You’ve had the luxury of calling Kim Wallace over” from duties at the district office, and added that replacing Wallace with a 0.8 FTE principal at King “does seem like what she’s doing now.”

Teacher Blair Howard said: “Students come to King because they have difficulty with transitions. A principal who would be on hand (throughout the school day) would greatly help. The students know when someone is there to have their back and when someone is not there to support them.”

Trustee Taylor then proposed hiring an 0.8 FTE principal for King, and Taylor’s motion was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Lovenburg dissenting.

During public comment, the school board also heard more about the district’s GATE program and the prospect of moving ninth-graders from the junior high schools into high school programs — two topics that have generated considerable comment at recent school board meetings. Eric Hays expressed concern about the school board’s recent decision to implement a lottery for picking among GATE-identified students for admission into self-contained classroom programs. Hays said he had asked for details about how the lottery would work in early February, and finally received details last Saturday. He described the new GATE lottery as “uniquely perverse” and maintained it does not protect the priorities students should be accorded under state education code.

Amy Kapatkin said that as the district examines alternatives to the current self-contained GATE instruction model, “it is important to pilot programs and not go backwards and figure out later what we’ve chosen is not ideal.” She expressed concern that perhaps “decisions have already been made” in this regard.

Emerson Junior High teachers Kathy Koblik and Gina Smith told the trustees that “the vast majority of our teaching staff finds the current configuration (grades 7-9 at junior high) ideal for our community and student population” and raised “serious concerns” about moving ninth-graders into high school programs.

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