DUSD Board Cheers Positive Financial Report

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Submitted by Denair Unified School District

The Denair Unified School District has made a remarkable financial turnaround, trustees were told Thursday night, and will finish the 2014-14 school year with a small surplus.

The recovery is about 18 months ahead of the aggressive expectations set last spring by new Superintendent Aaron Rosander and his revamped financial team in conjunction with state and county advisers. He said the district has kept a “laser-like” focus on its fiscal challenges and been “parsimonious” with its spending.

“The entire district has come together to ensure our success,” said Rosander, who took over in February. “Management and union members have worked impressively together over the past eight months. This relationship is strong and our combined will to succeed is even stronger.”

The district has an $8.7 million budget in 2014-15 and estimates it will end the school year with a 3% reserve, or about $262,000. That meets the minimum requirements set by the state and should earn Denair a “positive” certification for the first time since January 2012 from the Stanislaus County Office of Education, which reviews all school district budgets in the county.

In addition to across-the-board pay cuts, 19 full-time teaching jobs and one administrative position were eliminated earlier this year, and there were reductions to some non-essential academic programs. This fall, the district also was buoyed by a $250,000 windfall from the state thanks to recalculations related to its Average Daily Attendance, which school funding is based on. Other revenue adjustments netted the district about $90,000.

Rosander said parents and other community members “can rest assured and put confidence in the district that their schools are being managed with a high degree of accuracy when it comes to the financial component.

“Whenever you experience financial adversity, it really imposes upon you to look at your strategic plan to make decisions that absolutely target students and nothing but students,” he said. “… It’s created a high degree of focus in our district.”

Board members voted 5-0 to send their interim financial report to the county office and expressed appreciation for the concessions made by staff. The board as well as members in the audience clapped as Chief Business Officer Linda Covello highlighted good news during her presentation.

“It’s on the backs of every employee here. Every employee sacrificed. That’s the reason this happened and it’s not forgotten by anyone on the board,” said Trustee Robert Hodges.

Denair was threatened with state takeover two years ago and had to borrow $2.4 million from the County Office of Education to balance its budget. Many of its financial problems were tied to unrealistic budget projections of increased enrollment at a time when it really was declining. The district has about 1,300 students at his preschool, elementary, middle school, high school and charter campuses.

“Through a lot of hard work by many — including the board, staff and SCOE — the district is well on its way to solving its fiscal solvency issue,” said Don Gatti, the county office’s deputy superintendent of budget services.

Denair has made “significant progress toward fiscal stability and solvency, he said.

“Clearly, the difficult cuts made last year already are having a big impact on the district’s bottom line,” he said.

Linda Covello, Denair’s chief budget officer, estimated the district will have surpluses of $257,000 in 2015-16 and $261,000 in 2016-17 if it can meet its enrollment targets. Enrollment is projected to decline 5% in 2015-16 and 3% in 2016-17, but district officials hope to reverse that trend. Most of the drop has occurred in the transition between middle school and high school. Covello said the district has seen growth at the elementary level this year.

“Before we can go up in numbers, we have to slow down, and that’s what you’re seeing,” Rosander said. “… This is that juncture in time where we turn the corner and start to go in a new direction.”

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