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Mt. Diablo district superintendent discusses budget, low-achieving schools

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, April 30th, 2010 at 6:23 pm in Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington
As if schools haven’t been ravaged enough by budget cuts, districts including Mt. Diablo in Concord are bracing for more possible reductions based on the governor’s revised budget in May.
The district is also working on developing plans for its six schools labeled among the “lowest-achieving” in the state. In addition, the district is creating plans for other campuses with Academic Performance Index, or API, scores below 700 on a scale of 200 to 1,000 based on standardized test scores.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence sat down with me today to go over the district’s budget and explain what could happen next. He also told me earlier this week how the district is coming along with plans for low-achieving schools.
First: the budget
Lawrence said he was at a Bay Point community meeting last night where one person asked why the district doesn’t just refuse to make cuts and demand more money from Sacramento.
“I think a lot of people think, ‘Why don’t we just make the state pay?’” he said. “It sounds heroic. But there is really no way to do that.”
The district could go bankrupt and a state administrator could come in and start making decisions about how to cut costs, which could include deciding which schools to close, he said. The board expects to adopt its 2011-12 budget at a special meeting June 22.
Originally, the board had planned to adopt its budget June 29, but that meeting was moved up a week, Lawrence said, so administrators can take furlough days during the last week of June. Most administrators who work more than 214 days a year are taking four furlough days and most who work 213 days a year are taking three, he said.
Lawrence said he asked administrators to do this to “show leadership” with the hope that other unions would agree to similar cuts that could save more than $1.7 million from this year’s budget.
“I basically presented them the budget situation and said, ‘based on all this, we’re trying to work toward three furlough days for teachers this year,’” he said.
The board voted to cut $31 million over four years through furlough days, pay cuts and reduced benefits that need to be negotiated with unions. Administrators are not represented by a union, so Lawrence said he asked them to accept the furloughs and most did.
Those who were retiring were not asked to take the furlough days because it would reduce their retirement pay, he said.
Low-achieving schools:
At its May 11 meeting, the board may begin reviewing plans for its lowest-achieving schools, which trustees expect to begin approving May 25. These schools are: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point; Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord; and Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord.
Campuses with API scores of 700 or less include these schools, along with two high schools, two other middle schools and four other elementary schools, Lawrence said.
“The principals are going back and working with parents and teachers on plans,” Lawrence said.
Trustees are likely to approve plans for schools that want to apply for School Improvement Grants first, he said. The deadline for applying for up to $2 million in grant money is June 1.
Schools that request this money must agree to one of four reforms: close the school, replace the principal and half the staff, replace the principal and implement a variety of improvements such as increased instruction time, or reopen the school under new management such as a charter.
“Overall,” Lawrence said, “we need to increase and improve performance at all these schools.
How do you think trustees should balance the budget and improve schools?

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