News

Schools chief focuses on mission

Steve Enoch talks about budgets and education at Mayor's Morning

Any school district employee who does not work in the classroom is suspect. That's how Superintendent Steve Enoch approaches the budget and personnel for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, which has 34 schools and educates 27,000 students.

"We'd better not forget our mission and where we're at," he said at the Danville Mayor's Morning last week.

"People need to understand that we're an efficient organization," said Enoch. "We are not top heavy."

Due to state cuts, the district faces a $10 million immediate shortfall; its annual budget is $200 million.

"This is tough times. We're facing true budget reduction," Enoch said.

Mayor Newell Arnerich pointed out that the schools have no control over their revenue, which comes from the state.

Although it serves a wealthy community, the district itself is not wealthy, Enoch noted. He said most federal help goes to districts where there is poverty.

Funding will also be impacted when the district's current $90 parcel tax, paid annually, expires in June. Residents are voting by mail-in ballot due May 5 on a new parcel tax of $144, Measure C.

Measure C calls for a management committee to provide oversight; it also has exemptions for property owners 65 and older. It needs a two-thirds vote to pass, which is difficult, Enoch noted.

"Twenty percent always vote No," he said.

Orinda Union School District voted last week to increase its school parcel tax from $385 to $509, with 70 percent voting Yes.

The SRVUSD board did not ask for more money, Enoch said, due to the bad economy and also because a parcel tax for $166 failed in June. They chose a mail-in ballot, to go out in April, because it is less expensive than going to voting booths, costing $200,000 as opposed to $500,000.

"My own view is this parcel tax is critical to the district," said Enoch. "It provides $7 million each year for seven years."

"I really honor the democratic process," he added. "We'll see what people have to say."

If the parcel tax does not pass, cuts will go forward with counselors, music programs, school libraries and class-size reduction.

Kindergarten through third-grade classes now have a student-teacher ratio of 20-1; class-size reductions, which keep this ratio, are funded three-quarters by the state. The question is whether the district can afford its one-quarter, or $1.5 million. The district may have to go to a 24-1 ratio, Enoch said.

He recalled that when he began to consider this superintendent job, he noticed the district was delivering three things to the residents that they considered important:

1. The district has attractive schools, made possible through bond measures.

2. The district is academically oriented with students achieving at the highest levels, and 95 percent going to college. "They get an education second to none," said Enoch. "I'd put our schools up against private schools."

3. The district is financially accountable. "It's not top-heavy," he said. "Five percent of the budget is in administration. That's below the private sector."

API scores average 904, while other districts in the state celebrate when their scores go over 800, said Enoch.

"I don't want us to take these things for granted," he noted. "They came about because of leadership."

Last week was a difficult one in the school district, with preliminary layoff notices going out, said Enoch.

"Eighty-eight to 90 percent of the money is salary and benefits," Enoch said. "It's hard to have reduction without touching programs, which touches people."

He said that also last week he received an unexpected e-mail from a woman he had taught in the fourth grade who reminisced about things she had learned from him.

"It was a reminder that we touch people's lives," said Enoch. "It came just when I needed it."

Even in the midst of the budget crisis Enoch found a silver lining. "In despairing times comes opportunity," he said. "How can we be more efficient in impacting kids' lives?"

He said he sometimes thinks that California has lost the big picture, with funding under the new budget putting it at the lowest of all 50 states. He said he recently met a school superintendent from back East who gets twice the money per pupil.

He worked in the schools in the state of Washington for 10 years and was stunned to come back to the funding problems in California.

"One thousand dollars per student made a big difference," he recalled.

He's worried about the state of education throughout the nation.

"We need to prepare our students for the 21st century," he said. "It's not just California." Educators need to instill a work ethic in students and prepare them for careers to work with increasing globalization and multiculturalism, he said.

The Danville Mayor's Mornings are held once a month, free and open to the public; Arnerich is trying to have a special guest at each meeting. They are also a chance to hear from town officials and ask questions. The next one takes place at 7:30 a.m., Friday, April 10, at Chow's on Railroad Avenue.

Comments

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Posted by Danville Resident
a resident of Danville
on Mar 11, 2009 at 12:19 pm

This is an article from this month's SRVHS Epic Monthly newsletter. The cost savings could be HUGE if all the teachers and staff try to be more energy efficient. I have walked by many a classroom at my child's elementary school in the hot late spring and early fall months where the door was standing open, the classroom was empty and the air conditioner was blasting.

Here is the article:

SAVING JOBS AND PROGRAMS THROUGH ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUSNESS
By Andrew Gardner, Social Studies Teacher at SRVHS

As I write this, California sits in a financial deficit of $41 Billion. Our School District has proposed a budget based on a $16 million dollar reduction from the state. 256 SRVUSD employees have received a release form and 187 employees will receive a lay-off notice before March 15th. The current budget proposal to the Board of Education consists of cuts ranging from District Office Reductions, Psychologists, Stipends for Arts, Bands, Choral, and Sports, Counselors, Crossing Guards, Custodial Services, High School Supervision, Library and Media Assistants, 5th Grade Music, and many others.

But nowhere in the budget proposal did I find operational cost reductions; things like heating and air conditioning, lighting, computer efficiency, and water conservation in our landscaping. For example, each school site in our district spends on average $50,000 dollars per month on Energy bills. Half of this is just on Heating and Air Conditioning alone. With a total of 38 district sites, the total district energy bill is roughly $950,000 per month. The amount of money SRVUSD spends monthly on energy costs is the same as 19 full-time yearly salaries.

Going Green on our campuses and in our communities is not just about eco-friendliness, it's about economics. It's about saving jobs and protecting our schools, teachers, and educational programs. Our Superintendent, Steven Enoch, has repeatedly stated that it is our responsibility to teach our students how to live and learn in the 21st century. Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Recycling, and Resourcefulness, these are the words that define our future. These are the acts we need to teach our students and children. These are the very methods that will protect our schools and save jobs as we enter into this "new era of responsibility".

I urge all of us to instill values of energy and water conservation and reducing consumption of resources in our homes and on our campuses. It just might save that Music Program, Science Program, or Counselor that has positively impacted your child during their social and academic development.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Danville
on Mar 11, 2009 at 8:13 pm

I didn't vote for the last parcel tax -- there, I said it. Now let me tell you why. I know a little bit too much about how the money flows in this district, and it isn't always pretty. I have been at countless PTA, Education Fund and Site Council meetings, and have been actively involved in the schools for over 7 years. Often times, I would hear the phrases, "we've always done it this way," "last year, we . . .," or "that won't work because. . . "

I think many parents fear standing up and really being heard because they fear repercussions from the school. Yes, that's right, if you actively and open oppose the status quo, it's not a pretty picture. Why do you think this is submitted anonymously?

I'm all for go along to get along . . . EXCEPT when it comes to my kids and the quality of their education.

At many schools there are private "Education Funds" that parents pay into (around $200-300 PER STUDENT collected at the time of registration). For the most part people see it as a necessary part of the school's landscape. Others balk at paying for "public education." This money goes into a particular school's "pot of money" at the district. Those funds are used to "externally fund" people and programs not covered by the District. If you live in Alamo or Danville, often times this money provides music, art, teacher's aides and other one-time-only expenditures to enhance the educational landscape at that school. Not all schools in the District have the same level of parent support, so your child gets the benefit (or doesn't) based on where they go to school. Further, the District doesn't set specific goals for these private school funds to follow.

In a time when the District is thinking of cutting Music, Art, Sports, PE, Librarians, Counselors, etc., we need to get strategic in our thinking and come up with a long-term plan and then STICK TO IT.

What hasn't been publicized is that the VERY powerful teacher's union won't even come to the table for discussions until after the Parcel Tax election. What hasn't been put on the table (but was rightly suggested by Todd), is a reduction of pay for teachers which would allow them ALL to keep their jobs and KEEP some of the programs currently on the chopping block. I know some teachers would love to explore that option rather than lose their jobs.

While the District has made strides by committing to a citizen's oversight committee for the parcel tax funds and agreeing NOT to spend the money on administrative salaries, what is conspicuously absent is the committment NOT to spend it on Certificated teachers' salaries either.

Did you know that the programs and positions on the chopping block cost the district FAR less than the Certificated Salary teacher. This is because of the salary and benefit package the teachers in our district receive. If memory serves, when attending one of the town forums, teachers' salaries and benefits amount to over 60% of the entire district's annual budget. By cutting a mere 3% from that piece of the budget pie would make up for the revenue lost when the current parcel expires -- plus a little more -- WITHOUT the need for another parcel tax. We have been spending down our reserves for a while now, and the previous parcel tax did not account for increases in years 2 - 5. This means that our district has far less cash reserves in place than it did at the time of the original parcel tax.

There are solutions to be had, but everyone will have to lose their own self-interest in favor of what is best for our children. A pay increase for a teacher, while nice for the teacher, doesn't keep Art in the schools. A teacher's aide, paid for by a schools fund, while a "perk" for the teachers, doesn't keep music in the schools. Yes, yes, I know -- teacher's aide can help by breaking classrooms into smaller focused groups to the benefit of everyone in the class. Would you consider that those struggling in the classroom could be served by "intervention" programs, programs that already have specific dollars designated for their use? Would you consider that not all teacher's use their aides in this way? Did you know that some teachers use their aides to grade their homework, run photocopies, etc. (things which teachers in less-privileged district do on their own)?

The bottom line is that teachers in SRVUSD have it pretty good. They are well-paid, receive good benefits, and have a multitude of parent volunteers at their disposal, many of which contribute thousands of extra dollars to their school through auctions, donations, etc. We have updated textbooks, our kids go to modernized schools.

What the proponents of this parcel tax want you to believe is that we will lose teachers to other districts if we don't stay competitive with our salaries. I think teachers who wanted to leave for more money would have already done so. We have consistently been a bit below the area average when it comes to teachers' salaries. What makes teachers come to the district and stay in the district are all the things I mentioned in my previous paragraph.

Let me close by saying that I am "PRO" education and pro-teacher. What I am against is unfocused spending, lack of strategic planning, and the tight grip of the teacher's union. Should teachers be paid more -- ABSOLUTELY! Should they get more at the expense of valuable programs for our children -- ABSOLUTELY NOT!

I will be voting for the parcel tax, not because I believe in the District's ability to spend and plan wisely, but because the price that our children will pay if it doesn't pass is too high to bear.

I will be watching and if the parcel tax passes, you can bet I will attend every single Board of Trustee's meeting to do my part to ensure that the money is wisely spent. I can't do it alone folks. If anything I have said in this emails rings true for you -- GET INVOLVED!!!!!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hal Bailey
a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Dear Dolores,

The two authors of the commentary above illustrated the potential for this forum and their personal skills to present information in-depth for consideration.

Thank you, authors!!

Hal


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