Archive » July 21, 2011
School strives for dollars and sense
By SaraLloyd Truax, Staff Writer
From bizarre budgeting to joining forces with a Danish business school, the school board continued the work of keeping the high school top-notch with waning funds and growing uncertainty. The Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Board met first in closed session Tuesday to discuss contract negotiations with certified, classified and management employees still awaiting contracts, but took no action.
There were no public comments made before either the closed or open sessions.
Principal Mark Swanitz advised the board of the preliminary CAHSEE results. In California, all high school students must pass the CAHSEE, which is a test designed to ensure students graduate high school with grade-level skills in reading, writing and math. The test is first administered during students’ sophomore year. If they do not pass, there are numerous other opportunities for them to try again. But the sophomore census, as it is called, is a high-stakes measure for the school.
There was a dip in both the math and English scores, says Swanitz, with last year’s class earning the lowest passing rate in five years. While noting that swings from year to year are not unusual, especially in small schools, the 4% drop is of concern to the administration, which is already working on plans to address the issue.
“We will probably be in Program Improvement next year,” said Swanitz, which is a designation under the No Child Left Behind Act. Because the results are only preliminary, and the federal government is 18 months behind in reauthorizing the Act, it may be a few months before the outcome is known. Due to escalating requirements in passing rates, all California schools will be categorized in Program Improvement in three years, Swanitz said. Superintendent Paul Turnbull reported that the FFA had a good showing at the County Fair, earning two Championships and one Reserve Championship. All animals made weight, and each student received a profit for their efforts.
The school was also a winner, having earned high-tech equipment from Tooxell Communications that will turn any flat surface into a smart board. “That’s pretty cool,” said Turnbull, noting that the equipment will be a good resource in the school’s move to teach 21st century skills. Student scores are also moving upward, he was pleased to report, with more students achieving a GPA over 3.0 and more gaining admittance to four-year colleges.
Moving on to the consent agenda, the board approved the new Peer Tutor class, an elective open to 10-12th graders. Students who wish to develop their instructional skills will, under the supervision and monitoring of staff, act both as role models and tutors to students in need of remediation.
Also on consent, after 12 years of service to the district, Lonnie Clark will retire from her position as Food Service Manager. After interviewing several candidates, the board hired Harold Litwiler to assume the position. He comes from the Monterey Peninsula USD, where he turned a large program deficit into a surplus. There will be a period of overlap so that Clark can assist Litwiler with the transition.
As part of the action agenda, the board continued to discuss food service. The school will eliminate one Food Service Assistant in light of the fact Solvang School will be opening their own program, and no longer will be purchasing lunches from the high school. The district also took action to partner with the Niels Brock-Copenhagen Business College in Denmark by approving the addition of eight electives to the list of those offered by the high school. “We have a very interesting opportunity – it’s very exciting,” said Turnbull. “Niels Brock is highly regarded in Denmark. They have satellite campuses in many different countries.”
Reduced to its simplest terms, the tentative plan is to accept up to approximately 30 Danish students, beginning the 2012-13 school year, who will pay tuition and take the new classes as part of their core curriculum. The partnering institution will provide the teacher training, course materials and be wholly responsible for housing. Several local teachers have already expressed interest in teaching the classes.
There will be some limits on the extracurricular activities the students can engage in to ensure their presence does not cause the high school to incur any associated costs. After the first year, the elective classes may be opened to regular Santa Ynez students.
Moving on to its discussion agenda, the board addressed the 2011-12 state budget. It promises flat funding for education, but the reliability of the promise is questionable, says Nicole Evenson, Business Manager.
Because of the lack of Republican support, the Legislature scrapped Gov. Gerry Brown’s plan to include tax extensions into the budget, she said. The revenue that would otherwise have been derived from the same was replaced by a forecasted increase in the General Fund of $4 billion. The concern raised by this, said Evenson, is that the projection follows the $6.6 billion increase predicted last May for a total claimed increase in revenues for the state of $10.6 billion.
“That’s a large sum of money when you consider the entire state budget is in the neighborhood of 80 billon,” said Evenson. The school will receive monthly reports, but as of yet, the projected increase in revenue has not shown up on the books.
The state minimized the risk from this precarious situation by building in language that allows it to make mid-year reductions in the funding provided to schools. The best-case scenario if revenue projections do not come to fruition, said Evenson, is a shifting of up to a $1 billion in shortfall to the following year. In a worst-case scenario, education could be required to absorb a $1.9 billion mid-year cut.
To make matters more difficult, the Aug. 15 layoff window provisions are suspended, she said. Evenson noted that schools are required to budget based on the same level of revenues they received in the 2010-11 school year, and are required to maintain staffing and program levels commensurate with that funding. In addition, the county superintendent is prohibited from requiring school districts to demonstrate an ability to meet fanatical obligations for the two subsequent fiscal years as was previously required.
“I think the takeaway is that it is the most bizarre budget we’ve ever seen” said Turnbull. He expressed concern that local boards have lost their ability to determine the best course of action to address potential mid-year cuts. He fears a return of the situation faced in the 1980s and early 1990s where some schools required emergency loans. But, he says, because of the district’s careful planning, they should be able to weather a mid-year cut should one come.
Turnbull concluded the meeting with a brief review of the Healthy Kids report and concluded that Santa Ynez has less of a drug and alcohol problem than its northern counterparts. He congratulated the feeder schools for doing such a good job getting the word out. When the funding becomes available, the school hopes to reinstate the security position recently cut.
Welcomed were the newest members of the Pirate family: Julianne Elizabeth Clarno, born July 13 at 12:40 p.m. (7 pounds, 11oz., 19.5 inches) to parents Lindsey and Cameron Clarno (music); and Elliot (Elli) Lynne Rasmussen born on the Fourth of July (7 lbs. 5 oz., 19.5 inches) to Toby, Jennifer (AVID and PE) and big brother, Tyler Rasmussen.
The next school board meeting is slated for Tuesday, Aug. 16. Public comments for matters to be discussed in closed session will be heard at 4 p.m., with the open session for the meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m.