Schools chief focuses on mission | March 13, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - March 13, 2009

Schools chief focuses on mission

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

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

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.

Enroch, who became superintendent last summer, 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.