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A closer look at Mt. Diablo district budget cuts

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, March 14th, 2011 at 7:20 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

The Mt. Diablo school board will look at budget-cutting options Tuesday to try to close projected deficits and plan for the possibility that Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax extensions won’t make it onto the June ballot or will fail.

The County Office of Education has asked districts to cut $350 per student and set aside another $300 per student in case the state reduces school funding further to balance its budget.

By 2012-13, the Mt. Diablo district would be $27 million in the red, based on the $350 per student scenario, according to Superintendent Steven Lawrence. However, he isn’t proposing cuts nearly that deep.

Instead, he’s asking the board to assume that the district will achieve more than $6.8 million from three furlough days and reduced benefits contributions, which still need to be negotiated. In addition, Lawrence wants trustees to approve a three-year budget that assumes seven furlough days in 2011-12 and 2012-13, which also need to be negotiated.

Previously, CFO Bryan Richards has said he was unwilling to include these items in the district’s budget, since they weren’t assured.

Here are the cuts from Lawrence’s list that he recommends trustees approve and assume in the district’s three-year budget:

NEGOTIATED ITEMS (WHICH HAVEN’T BEEN VOTED ON BY UNIONS):

10-N4: Limit non-MDEA health care costs to current level: $2.5 million ongoing

10-N6: Reduce teacher calendar by 3 days in 2010-11 and by seven days in 2011-12 and 12-13 (three teaching days in 2010-11; five teaching days and two staff development days in 2011-12 and 12-13): $2.6 million in 2010-122; $6 million ongoing after that

10-N15: Prorate benefits for part-time employees: $1.6 million ongoing

NON-NEGOTIATED ITEMS:

4: Transfer one-time CA High School Exit Exam intervention funds to general fund: $235,000 one-time

5: Transfer funding from Gifted and Talented (GATE) program to general fund (would eliminate GATE funding): $221,272 ongoing

6: Transfer one-time instructional materials funding to general fund: $480,438 one-time

7: Transfer specialized secondary program funding (would eliminate MDHS Arts and Humanities Academy, AHA): $29,610 one-time

8: Transfer one-time teacher professional development funds to general fund: $435,160 one-time

9: Transfer one-time Targeted Instructional Improvement Block Grant funds to general fund: $800,000 one-time

11: Sweep one-time Adult Education funds (would necessitate a dramatic fee increase for all Lifelong Education classes effective July 1 and likely result in significant reduction in classes as student support and interest decreases): $500,000

12: Freeze carryover funds from old state programs that have been eliminated (schools have received the money for the past two years): $930,000 one-time

16: Reduce speech contract funding (reduced need due to staff hires): $600,000 ongoing

17: Reduce Occupational Therapy contracts (fewer students need services): $52,560 ongoing

TOTAL NON-NEGOTIATED CUTS: $4,284,040 ($3.38 million one-time and $903,442 ongoing)

NEGOTIATED CUTS: It’s unclear exactly how much money the district is estimating toward the benefits caps this year. It is estimating nearly $2.6 million for the furlough days this year, then nearly $10.3 million a year ongoing starting in 2011-12 for seven furloughs, plus the benefits cap and proration.

The Mt. Diablo Education Association (MDEA) teachers’ union has reached a tentative agreement for the three furlough days this year, but would need to negotiate future furlough days. Union members and the board haven’t yet approved the tentative agreement.

The district’s other three unions (Local 1 CST, M&O and CSEA) are at impasse. The board expects to approve a $40,000 contract with School Services of California to prepare “fact-finding” information to be presented to mediators appointed by the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB).

Maintenance and Operations rep Dawn Winder told me last Friday that her unit was notified March 4 that the state required fact-finding take place within a 10 work day period. The fact finder, she said, told union members he was willing to extend the time, if both parties agreed.

“Of course, we were in agreement because we just now were receiving the budget, today (March 11, when it was posted with the March 15 agenda),” she said. “The district is unagreeable to extend that timeline, so we’re going Tuesday during the day into fact-finding without all the facts.”

The fact-finding session will take place Tuesday morning, before the board votes on the budget Tuesday night.

“Then, the fact-finder has 30 days to report back and then the district can impose (it’s last, best and final offer),” she said. “And if they do, we can only be imposed upon until June 30. Why didn’t they accept the concessions we wanted to make a year ago?”

I asked Lawrence in an e-mail why the district would want to impose concessions, when it would have to turn around and start negotiating again so soon. Here’s his response:

“If the District imposes its last, best and final offer it becomes the new status quo for fiscal articles such as furlough days, the benefit cap, and proration. While it is true that we must then continue to bargain to reach a negotiated agreement with the unions, the starting point for any new agreement would be the capped and prorated levels previously imposed.”

Winder said union members were willing to pay more toward their health coverage and to take furlough days, but district negotiators wanted more.

“They wanted that proration,” she said. ”The proration is a big thing for us.”

Lawrence pointed out in his staff report that the board will have to identify new cuts in its 2013-14 budget, even if the negotiated items are implemented. Yet, he doesn’t expect trustees to go through the cut list item by item on Tuesday, he said.

“I have spoken to the County Office of Ed.,” he said in a voicemail message. “At the second interim, they do not need the specificity in a cut. What they just need to know is that you’ve identified or over-identified enough cuts to make your budget balanced out. For us currently, it would be balanced out through the 12-13 school year. And so based on the number of cuts that are on that list, we would more than meet that obligation and so they are fine with that. So, we don’t have to go in and specifically say, ‘This position would be laid-off.’”

But Winder said she thinks trustees should go through the list item by item and come to a consensus about which cuts they would be willing to make.

“I think that it’s an awful lot of pain to just sweep under the carpet all at once,” she said. “I think that each item should be closely looked at. I didn’t notice any administrator positions on that list.”

On March 8, Board President Gary Eberhart asked Lawrence to bring back an analysis of cuts to the Student Acheivement and School Support (SASS) department, a freeze on overnight out-of-town travel and off-site principal meetings during the day. Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh suggested that more school closures should be added to the list and Trustee Cheryl Hansen asked that the possible sale of Willow Creek Center be added. She has also repeatedly asked that a list of district staff working on post-retirement contracts be made public, based on some people’s assertions that the district is spending too much money on employees who are “double-dipping.”

The school closures and Willow Creek Center sale appear on the new list. The post-retirement contract list and Eberhart’s suggestions are missing.

Instead of reducing SASS, the district is recommending hiring another administrator in the department.

Winder said the extra work her union members have been doing, combined with stalled negotiations, is taking a toll.

“My coworkers are stressed, strained,” she said. “Certainly overworked and underpaid and in a very negative environment. And we have found that our sick time has significantly increased. That’s what happens when your people get really stressed.”

One good thing to come out of the bargaining logjam has been a more unified outlook among the four unions, she said.

“For the first time in 30 years, in Mt. Diablo’s history, all of the organized labor units — MDEA, CST, CSEA and M&O — are meeting on a monthly basis and working together. We’ve been doing this for the past five months. I think it has helped to bring us all closer together. So, it’s no longer the teachers versus the classified. We’re all in the same boat without the paddle.”

Although Lawrence recommends the board approve a “positive” budget, General Counsel Greg Rolen states in item 14.7 that “the district filed its 2010-11 Second Interim Report with a qualified certification.”

He recommends the board ask the county to sell Measure C bonds on its behalf because: “The Education Code requires that school districts with a qualified certification issue bonds through the county.”

Do you support Lawrence’s recommendation to assume the negotiated cuts in the district’s three-year budget? Do you think trustees should discuss each item instead of approving the entire list as a back-up plan? Do you think Eberhart’s ideas should be added to the list?

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  • Follow The Money

    Let’s get this straight. MDUSD was qualified last year, but on Feb. 22 passed a Measure C bond sale resolution, and now 3 weeks later goes back retroactively to amend because MDUSD is qualified? How will this affect the bond sale and the list of projects?

  • Theresa Harrington

    That’s a good question. Perhaps it will come up at the next Bond Oversight Committee meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday: http://169.199.90.240/MDUSDFacilities/pages/oversight.html
    Here’s the agenda link: http://bit.ly/fdAFVJ
    Also, Trustee Cheryl Hansen asked to see how much the district spends on consultants. This information is missing from Lawrence’s staff report as well.

  • Doctor J

    I get the impression that the District has backed away from many cuts — not included the items Gary requested or Cheryl requested — since they settled with MDEA. What the District is forgetting and to some extent the board, too, is that the voters are not satisfied with their cuts. You need voter satisfaction if you want a hope of extending the state taxes and possibly a future parcel tax.

  • Theresa Harrington

    If the ballot measures don’t make it onto the ballot, the board will likely need to make more cuts. It will be interesting to see if Eberhart and Hansen ask why their ideas weren’t added to the list, which is to be submitted to the county as a backup plan.
    Also, the MDEA membership hasn’t yet agreed to the deal. And the other three unions aren’t even close to agreeing to the cuts Lawrence wants trustees to assume in the budget.

  • mom

    Did they vote on the new school bounderies for Holbrook students last nignt? Thank you for all of your great information!

  • Poseidon

    The items that Hansen and Eberhardt asked for were included in the back up to the agenda. Not initially but they were added prior to the meeting on Monday. They still don’t include all of the information regarding impact and total dollars that can be saved, but they are on there. When Eberhardt requested that the items be added, he said to the superintendent that he should get the items on the list even if all information was not yet available. The superintendent did as he was directed. The state taxes have a good chance to fail and I don’t see the district backing away from the cuts that will have to be made if the state taxes fail. I hope people understand how critical that funding is to all districts in the state.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, eight items were added to the reductions list: http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/60c83716-29b0-433a-b69f-d3efb699e7bc.pdf
    However, neither the board nor the staff informed the public that these items had been added and there was no indication on the online agenda that it had been updated.
    The trustees also didn’t discuss these items, so no direction was given to the superintendent. For example, under “costs of consultant contracts,” the report states: “We need clarification if the board is looking for contracts that are just paid out of the general fund or also out of categorical and grants.” This question wasn’t asked during the meeting and no direction was given.
    And the list Hansen requested of post-retirement contract workers is still missing.
    And yes, the board did approve the boundaries as presented. Dennler voted no and Hansen abstained.

  • Doctor J

    The “late added” reductions are just double talk — the Supt failed to disclose the total costs of travel and overnight stays, including categoricals. As Gary said, better use of the categorical money can be made — get it to the classroom and not on an airline ticket or hotel or restaurant. The statement about only one district meeting for site administrators per month during school hours is plain FALSE. On March 3 there was a K-5 Prinicipals meeting at 7:30 am. Today there is a K-Adult Supt’s meeting started at 7:30 am. On March 31 at 7:30 am there is another K-5 Principals meeting. You don’t need Board Math to count to THREE.

  • Long-time Board Watcher

    The Brown Act requires the Board meeting agenda to be publicly posted 72 hours beforehand. How can anything be added to the agenda after that posting? I understand that the topic of budget cuts was included in the original agenda. If adding new items to the list of proposed cuts after the agenda’s been posted doesn’t violate the Brown Act, it seems to indicate a very loose interpretation of the law. It also seems to indicate the district leadership’s lack of regard for people affected by items added a day before the Board meeting.

    Poseidon, I assume from your comment that Eberhart’s request of the Superintendent was made at a prior public meeting. Why, then, did he not check that the items were listed when he met with Dr. Lawrence to develop the agenda that was posted the requisite 72 hours before the meeting? I hope you and the district leadership know how important it is for the MDUSD community to be informed of all the cuts being considered and to have their questions answered about how this district is spending their tax dollars.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Longtime board watcher: The agenda item wasn’t added late. The agenda attachment (cut list) was amended.
    This isn’t the first time staff reports have been changed or added after the agenda was posted. Powerpoint presentations are routinely added at the last minute. Also, a staff report about special education assistant positions being cut last spring was amended without anyone mentioning it publicly.
    It would be nice if the board would adopt a policy requiring a public announcement that additions have been made to an agenda item or staff report after it is posted. It would also be helpful to add a notation to that effect in the online agenda.
    Some members of the audience last night didn’t know the cut list had been updated with an “R” next to the items being recommended by the superintendent. His staff report didn’t identify by number which items on the cut list he was recommending, so Trustee Linda Mayo asked him to clarify that.
    Also, as Willie Mims has repeatedly pointed out, a hard copy of the entire agenda packet should be available to the public at the meeting.
    General Counsel Greg Rolen stopped the board from violating the Brown Act last night, however. After the boundary change vote, Board President Eberhart wanted to make a motion adopting the school closure plan that was attached to the agenda item. Rolen said that would have to be brought back as a separate item at a future meeting, since the agenda item only covered school boundaries.
    Strategic Planning: I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brian Lawrence run again. He’s been showing up at meetings and commenting on blogs.

  • Sue Berg

    Dr. J, you complain that the district has too many poorly performing schools and then that the district is hiring too many consultants in the SASS (school support) department and allowing too many employees (e.g., teachers) to attend conferences/training that require overnight travel and lodging. You also complain about school principals meeting together more than once a month and during school hours.

    First, the state and federal grants that provide money for school improvement typically require the use of outside consultants and staff attendance at training activities. Grant funds cover the cost. The consultants bring in ideas and experience from their work in other districts. The staff training provides opportunities for MDUSD staff to learn from and with peers in other districts. I appreciate Ms. Hansen requesting the details on how both grant and General Fund money is being spent on these activities so she can effectively evaluate the use of these funds.

    As for the principal meetings, Gary Eberhart demanded a couple of years ago that they be held after school. When the principals were told of this demand, they pointed out that they had far more responsibilities at their sites at the end of the day, when students are on campus but not in classrooms, parents stop in when picking up their students, and staff is available for conversations and meetings. Principals agreed to move up the morning meeting time from 8:30 to 7:30 and to set a maximum time limit of 2 hours.

    These meetings, whether a full K-Adult or grade-level specific, are important opportunities to share information, ideas, common problems and issues, and education practices among school leaders. They help develop relationships and a support system among the principals and lead to collaboration among school staffs as well. (One of the sad aspects of the closure of Glenbrook and Holbrook is the end of a formal collaboration, with Sun Terrace. Over the past couple of years staff of the three schools participated in leadership training, some of it in southern California, to develop “professional learning communities” at each site. Recent student achievement data reflects this training.)

    A meeting in and of itself may seem unnecessary. But without interacting with district staff and other site administrators periodically, principals work in the vacuum of their own specific school site, and pretty soon MDUSD is back to where it was in the 1990s: a collection of individual, quasi-independent schools with differing curriculum, financial and volunteer support, and assumptions about student achievement.

    Over the past decade the amount of school-to-school interaction has increased, especially among K-12 schools in the same feeder patterns, where staff and parents can look at their students’ needs along a continuum rather than at a specific school or grade level. The principal meetings are essential to this interaction. Frankly, there is no time–morning, afternoon, evening, even the weekend–when someone doesn’t expect a principal to be on campus. But mornings are when most of the other staff is there to handle things. And if a campus need arises, believe me, the principal puts that ahead of the meeting.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Eberhart backed the hire of an additional administrator for SASS after staff said it was included in the district’s $14 million School Improvement Grant. Eberhart said the district was compelled to follow through on implementing the grant.
    Yet, the board failed to follow through on Glenbrook’s SIG and the loss of that money will reduce the need for the additional administrator.
    Staff neglected to point out that the total grant amount is now $1.2 million less and the number of students being served has dwindled significantly, since the grants now cover three elementary schools and no middle school.
    Regarding late agenda attachments, the district also posted two attachments to the 14.3 Boundary Change item after the agenda was originally posted: the district transition plan and Glenbrook and Holbrook maps with names. When I printed out that agenda item on Monday, March 14, those two attachments were not there.

  • J. Richards

    The agenda is not changing in MDUSD it is only the attachment which is documentation. Back in the days before the school district had the electronic agenda, it posted a single list without any attachments – just like San Ramon and Walnut Creek. Maybe the district should go back to those days. The board and MDUSD employees could have access the electronic portion and the public would have the list of agenda topics.

  • Doctor J

    @Sue, Do you think its safe to leave 700 elementary children unattended by a site administrator after the school staff — one office manager and a part time secretary — positions have been reduced ? Yes, I feel for the principals — they have a lot on their plate. Why doesn’t the District hold an on-line meeting like many companies do — conference
    calls with an on line “go-to-meeting” so all charts and handouts are seen by all ? Cuts out all of the travel back and forth and keeps the administrators on site. Much more cost effective and time effective.
    And you don’t even have to buy coffee and donuts. :-) Second, have you read the SIG grant applications ? When Lawrence proposed SASS on May 11 and appointed the staff on 6/15, the Board had already authorized the
    SIG grant applications — no mention of the additional staff, and in fact the selling point to the Board was that SASS would have less people than C&I and save $50,000, most of which was categorical. Interestingly the District SIG application does list the Region IV as a consultant but no where can I find the second consultant listed — Carlisle Associates, a brand new start up company.
    Third, most, if not all, of the underperforming schools get TONS of Title 1 money — both before and after becoming a Program Improvement school — obviously how they spent those millions of dollars didn’t help them much, did it ?
    Fourth, I agree with Gary that travel, airplane trips, hotels and restaurants bought with categorical money can better be spent in the classroom. Lawrence only identified $14,000 of general fund money when
    we know from other reports that the total has been as high as over $500,000 — that’s a lot of categorical money. I can’t wait to find out how many administrators are flying down to the LAX two day conference in the first week of April.

  • Theresa Harrington

    That would be a step backwards in terms of public transparency and accountability. I appreciate the fact that the district posts its staff reports with the agenda. I would appreciate it even more if the district would make some sort of notation, however, when attachments are added or amended.
    The public is entitled to receive staff reports at the same time the board does, so community members can study the issues and prepare comments.
    Recently, both trustees and members of the public have complained about “surprise” reports revealed for the first time during meetings because they had no time to review them ahead of time.

  • Susan

    I am still waiting for a dollar amount that MDUSD spends on consultants. In the spirit of transparency, this figure should be released. I know that when you divide the total consultant or outside contractor cost by the number of students in the district it allows us to compare to similar large districts and investigate cutting these costs. For example, Lafayette only spends $200 per student on consultants but Oakland Unified spends $2000 per student. I feel strongly that this is a key area that needs to be cut, BEFORE TAKING MONEY FROM THE TEACHERS AND ROBBING THE CHILDREN OF INSTRUCTIONAL DAYS (furlough days).
    I am concerned as a parent in the MDUSD that it is the very least attractive district to teach in the state of California.
    MDUSD is pressuring MDEA for these furlough days and rushing the process without even considering cutting 6-digit positions, each of which would pay for 2+ teachers.

  • Anon

    Susan:

    With regard to furlough days, MDUSD is one of the only districts in the area that has *not* taken furlough days – WC, Acalanes, Martinez, San Ramon, Liberty, San Francisco, Cupertino all had furlough days. Since MDEA would not negotiate on this in 2010, pink slips were issued and many teachers lost their jobs. In other districts, the teachers union and the district came to agreement for 2010-2011 school year on furlough days and *saved* teacher jobs.

    Regarding consulting, some of the consultants work could not be done by current district employees (such as birth rate forecasts, population migration/growth/decline analysis utilized by the school closure committee). The district does not have full time staff on board that has this expertise (in fact, I’m sure the district would be criticized if they did have staff; someone would say too much overhead). So if the analysis is only needed for a project, it makes fiscal sense to hire expert consultants for the duration of the project and to not hire them on staff permanently (especially in times of tight budgets).

  • mdusd mom

    Susan, in many cases consultant costs are mandated by the State or Federal Government when a district receives funds for ESL or schools in program improvement. The Grants may specify that a consultant must be retained. I would be curious of the costs too and how many of them are required by a Grant, funding for ESL or Program Improvement schools. It is scary when a middle school in Pleasanton with an API over 900 is placed in program improvement recently. This speaks volumes to me and really shows just how an API means nothing.

  • Doctor J

    Intersting SASS survey of principals. Why can’t the principal’s meetings be held “online/conference calls” and keep the principals on site and still have regular communication ? http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/12ef1e91-8e5e-49ef-b42e-6f2d1e63d2f7.pdf

  • Doctor J

    Self serving SASS powerpoint. Where is the data to show this is effective and working ? That’s what we were promised in January. They say they are data driven — show us the data if it is working. http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/3d3cf567-4e4a-46c1-9441-9b5aec2beaf0.pdf