Superintendent Message – Board Meeting January 27, 2020

  • Welcome to our first Board Meeting of 2020!
  • Tonight, I want to share the third ongoing challenge to our budget development. Before I do, I want to call your attention to a report by WestEd: a nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development, and service agency working with education and other communities throughout the U.S. and abroad. We have worked with WestEd over the years, specifically seeking professional development for English Learners and receiving technical assistance with school improvement efforts. The report is entitled Silent Recession: Why California school districts are underwater despite increases in funding. It was released in April 2018. Here’s the quote from a California District Budget Officer in the introduction, “It’s exactly this silent recession scenario…though we are receiving more dollars each year per student, the costs that we’re being saddled with are greater than those revenues. So, we end up in a perpetual cutting mode.” The report goes on to state that “despite projected increases in state and local education funding between 2017-18 and 2021-22, California school districts face fiscal pressures that threaten to destabilize school district budgets and force reductions in services to students. Examples of these fiscal pressures include reduced funding due to declining enrollment; the costs of upkeep and renovations for aging school facilities; increasing special education program costs; increasing employee health care costs; the costs associated with recruiting, retaining, and training teachers, including competitive wages; and the most daunting fiscal pressure is the rising cost of employee pensions.”
  • If you remember back in October, my message spoke about our district’s trend in declining enrollment. Dr. Salkeld provided the update in the First Interim Budget report that in this year alone, approximately 300 fewer students showed up in July than we had projected. Now over the past four years our enrollment declined by 1859 students, the size of one of our high schools. Those reduced numbers equate to a loss of approximately $18.5M and that amount compounds each year.
  • The second point in the report highlights aging school facilities and the costs associated with those needs – check that box, too, for Sweetwater.
  • Another point made is the daunting pressure of increasing pension costs. In my November message I shared that in the past four years our contributions increased over 60% for State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) and close to 65% for Public Employee Retirement System (PERS).
  • WestEd’s final major point calls out the increasing costs for Special Education programs – a much needed and necessary service for our students with IEPs. Rising costs associated with Special Education is our third challenge to budget development. Here is a chart of our contributions to Special Education in Sweetwater over the past four years:
Fiscal Year Contribution June Adopted Budget Contribution Actual CASEMIS June Submission
2015/2016 39,405,581 43,732,578 5,445
2016/2017 45,069,553 49,145,605 5,511
2017/2018 49,238,313 57,505,903 5,712
2018/2019 57,495,448 58,140,567 5,751
2019/2020* 62,675,776
2020/2021* 65,809,568

* Budgeted


As you can see in the chart, that while our enrollment is declining, the numbers of students we serve with an IEP have increased. Because of increased costs and new regulations combined with flat revenues and increased number of students being served, our contribution to Special Education has increased from $43M in 2015-16 to $62M in 2019-20. We receive approximately $23M from the federal government and state revenues (AB602 = $16-17M; IDEA = $6M) to support Special Education. We know the contribution is necessary; we also know school districts are not adequately funded with state and federal funds to meet the needs of our students with IEPs. We must contribute additional money beyond funds received from AB602 and IDEA.


  • I want to comment on second semester allocations since there are inaccuracies being discussed in our schools and community based upon a recent media report – if you’ve been in education for a while, you know over the course of a school year, high schools in all districts typically lose students in second semester due to students transferring to alternative programs to recover and make up credits. As a result, there are always adjustments in master schedules to accommodate the reductions in enrollment. It is also a part of the SEA teacher contract that due to the changes in a high school schedule, the number of 1/6s at high schools are reduced from a maximum number of 15 in Semester I to a maximum of 11 in Semester II. This contract language that requires a reduction in 1/6s does not apply to middle schools since there is typically very little change in enrollment. SEA contract language allows for a maximum of nine (9) 1/6s for middle schools in both semesters. Contrary to what the article stated, schools did not receive less money in second semester. Rather, principals were asked to look for opportunities to consolidate classes during second semester which is not an unusual practice. Again, high schools typically have a number of changes in second semester due to contract requirements and fewer students. Since we are looking for budget solutions and doing our best to be fiscally responsible, any savings we can make in the current year will carry over into the 2020-21 school year. And that helps us! We are grateful to our school leaders and staff for making adjustments that make sense for their schools. No school was mandated to make cuts – that’s just not true!
  • Because we are getting better at planning, we released “initial” allocations for the 2020-21 school year earlier than in year’s past. It is also typical to release some of the “other teacher allocations” at this time, particularly those allocations that directly impact students – in other words, teaching sections. Until the budget decisions are made and until the LCAP is revised, many of the resource positions are not released. Again, this is not unusual. As I stated at the Board Budget workshop last week, there have been NO proposals made to the Board and the Board has not approved any reductions at this point in time. I will state emphatically that other direct teaching allocations like orchestra/band, mariachi, CTE, ELD, attendance coordinators at high schools, HPWB, and after school program allocations are included on the initial allocations for each school. We appreciate the passion and pride many of you have shared with us about specific programs, and I want to reiterate that the document you may have seen is typical of documents released in the initial budget planning stages every year. Please know, programs that directly service students like Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, SCPA, FLAGS, JROTC, are not being eliminated. In fact, in an effort to standardize how students/families apply to specialized programs, last week we hosted a district-wide parent meeting with all representatives from SCPA, IB, and FLAGS with a single application to ensure the process is the same for all schools. What we are doing is analyzing where we can improve efficiencies in how we distribute the resources we do have for all of our programs. I hope this helps people understand a little more of what happened. And if you have questions, please ask us.
  • Finally, in each semester, principals have 10 days to balance the new semester schedule to ensure we meet the SEA contract class caps. That means, no teacher nor class can be over what is required in the teacher contract. I can assure you that all schools meet this requirement both semesters every year. Sweetwater leadership is aware of and honors contract language as we open each semester. That’s the rest of the story that the article did not print.
  • I want to take a moment to acknowledge the loss of another Sweetwater employee – Nur Abdullah, Senior Adm. Assistant for Special Services. Nur worked with us since 2005 when she started as a support staff substitute. During her time with us, she served the Student Support Services, Adult School, Human Resources, and Special Services departments. She loved her job and she loved her family. Having known Nur for all the years of service in Sweetwater, I agree whole-heartedly with a comment that was made about Nur at her celebration of life service: “Nur demonstrated courage, strength, and grace during her life and especially during her ultimate life challenge.” Rest in peace Nur!
  • I want to give a huge shout-out to the teachers and staff at Southwest HS. When I visited on January 17th, I walked in on a conversation between Principal Montaño, Restorative Practice teacher Omar Mercado, and Librarian Ana Baños talking about a new initiative called, “Step 4.” Step 4 is a series of lessons that teachers and other staff will be delivering to students every other week this semester during Period 4. The themes of the lessons include self-image; anti-bullying/tolerance; kindness; healthy choices about vaping, drugs, alcohol, sexual harassment, healthy relationships; mindfulness and stress management/inspiration; and multicultural awareness. The Southwest staff will use videos, common sense education materials, TED Talks, Teaching Tolerance materials as well as many other resources. Also assisting with this initiative is Social Science teacher Joel Rodriguez. Thank you Southwest HS teachers and staff for making Social Emotional Learning a reality!
  • Congratulations to Granger Jr. High School! Principal Kracha was notified today that GJ has been re-designated as one of the 2020 Schools to Watch! Go Griffins!
  • Finally, I want to make sure everyone knows about our Parent/Student Career Series that starts this month. The location is CVHS Jack Tygett Performing Arts Center and the dates are January 29th where the topic is Health Careers, February 25th topic is First Responders/Law Enforcement, and March 11th topic is Engineering/Drones. Each series starts at 5pm with college tables and the industry panel presentations begin at 6pm. Please share with your family and friends! All are welcome!
  • Also, be on the look-out for 2020 Sweetwater STEM Research Fair coming on Feb. 6 at SUHI.
  • Thank you very much!