Submitted by Denair Unified School District:
It has taken more than six years, been the source of much angst for employees and been the highest priority for the Denair Unified School District board, and now it’s on the verge of happening. Salary restoration is about to become a reality if, as expected, trustees approve the 2019-20 budget at a special meeting next week.
By now, most who are familiar with the district know the story. In 2013, facing a financial crisis rooted in declining enrollment and reduced state reimbursements, Denair was threatened with state takeover if it didn’t drastically reduce expenses.
That led to painful cuts in salaries for all employees – 12.75% for classified (non-teaching) staff and 8% for teachers and administrators.
Almost from the moment those reductions were enacted, salary restoration became a mantra – not just for employee unions, but also for board members and the past two superintendents. Little by little over the past five years, salaries have been partially restored.
Now, thanks to slow but steady increases in enrollment, some strategic budget choices and a little help from a new governor, the district is poised to take the next step to complete restoration.
“It feels like we should be jubilant,” Trustee Ray Prock Jr. said Thursday night after a low-key presentation about the 2019-20 budget.
“I know for all of us, hearing about salary restoration is important. We’re all very cognizant of that. It was a goal,” said Trustee Crystal Sousa, who like Prock, joined the board after pay was slashed.
Restoration was achieved via a number of factors that either reduced expenses or increased revenue.
One of the key moments came this spring when Gov. Gavin Newsom chose to contribute more to the State Teachers Retirement System, or STRS. That decision will save Denair $87,500 in the next budget year, Chief Business Officer Linda Covello told trustees. That money will be devoted to salary restoration.
So will an estimated $110,000 saved through a dramatic reduction in out-of-town travel, lodging, meals and other costs associated with teacher and staff training in 2019-20. Instead, Covello explained, the professional development focus next year will be on training done internally or on campus. That decision was reached after positive discussions between staff and administrators.
Finally, the district expects to increase revenue from the state by about $60,000 based on having improved attendance rates at all its campuses this year.
Superintendent Terry Metzger said the district has been “conservative” in its budget assumptions and that salary restoration was the primary goal.
“Our employees deserve this,” she said. “We’re cautiously optimistic, but we feel very good about this. … Now, we need to make competitive salaries our next goal” in order to hire and retain the very best teachers.
The 2019-20 budget projects spending at $15,344,091, Covello said. That is less than the $16,231,796 that the district will spend this year, when one-time funds received and saved from the state over many years allowed additional spending on technology, facilities and textbooks.
The district still has a few hundred thousand dollars left in one-time money that it will devote in the next year to portable classrooms and enhanced security fencing at Denair Elementary Charter Academy and other projects, Covello said.
Salaries and benefits account for the biggest chunk of the budget. And even with Newsom’s additional pension contributions this year, retirement costs continue to skyrocket. Denair will pay a combined $1.6 million to STRS and PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) in the next year.
The budget also projects continued attendance gains in the district, especially at DECA and Denair High School, where a larger incoming class of freshmen is expected to more than replace a smaller graduating class of seniors this year. Covello’s calculations show an additional 27 students in the district in 2019-20, bringing attendance to 1,244.
Trustees will take a final vote on next year’s budget at their June 13 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the board room.
In other action Thursday, trustees:
- Heard a report from DECA Principal Kelly Beard and teachers Nicole Janz and Tami Sondeno about plans to roll out a new social science curriculum for elementary students. “Exploring Social Studies: California Edition” by TCM is being offered to the district free for a pilot program this fall. It has print as well as online components, and is available in English as well as Spanish for DECA’s dual immersion students. “I think the kids will be very engaged, which is what we want,” Sondeno said.
- Voted 4-0, with Regina Gomes absent, to approve a tentative agreement with the Denair Unified Teachers Association. The deal codifies salary adjustments already paid for and includes a provision for catastrophic medical leave for someone dealing with a serious injury or illness for themselves or a family member. The contract expires June 30; negotiations on a three-year replacement already have begun.
- Approved two overnight leadership and planning conferences in July and September for seven Denair High FFA students and two of their ag teachers.
- Heard a report from Facilities Director Brian Holloway, who talked about doing a needs assessment for the entire district. He also updated the board on plans to install additional security fencing at DECA.
- Approved a contract with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department for extra security at football and basketball games, dances, and graduations. Hourly rate ranges from $81.82 for a sheriff’s deputy to $91.18 for a sergeant.