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Fremont Unified School Board meeting report

By Miriam G. Mazliach

February 21, 2012

The following are highlights from the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) Board meeting held on February 8, 2012.

Community Leadership/Superintendent’s Report:
Cub Scout Den 447 presented the colors (flags) at the start of the meeting.

The Board recognized Grace Wong, the Founder of Learning Bee, for her support of Fremont Education Foundation (FEF) through her sponsorship and contributions to the Guy Emanuele Sports Fund’s “Run for Education.”

Director of Elementary Education Debbie Amundson and School Board President Lily Mei introduced the six elementary school students who were FUSD’s Spelling Bee winners:
1st Place: Avani Aggrwal, Patterson Elementary School; 2nd Place: Megan Sun, Oliveira Elementary; 3rd Place: Ruhani Kapoor, Mission Valley Elementary; 4th Place: Sahir Qureshi, Niles Elementary School; 5th Place: Shirlyn Prabahar, Warm Springs Elementary; 6th Place: Disha Kurane, Ardenwood Elementary.

The students were each presented with a pocket dictionary, DVD, certificate of recognition and a medal. They will next represent the district at the Alameda County Spelling Bee to be held in Castro Valley on March 17.

Oral Communications/Public Comment:
District parent, Hiu Ng questioned why the District holds onto more revenue than he feels necessary. Echoing his sentiments, President of the Fremont Unified District Teacher Association, Brannin Dorsey also questioned the need for the district to reserve as much funds as it does. “Our kids deserve more. You are ahead of what our budgets were projected to be. Do the right thing.”

Regular Board Agenda Item – State Budget Update:
Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, Micaela Ochoa presented an update on the budget situation since the last School Board meeting of January 25. She explained that not much has changed and detailed some of the calculations used by the district. “Every year, the State’s Department of Finance sends out Cost of Living (COL) adjustment information to districts. We take the data to build our budget with additional information input from various areas, like for example, the Lottery, etc,” said Ochoa. “Furthermore, we experienced a mid-year budget cut in late December. In January we received additional information indicating an estimated $1.7 million to the revenue limit,” she added.

The district will have to wait and see if the Governor’s proposed tax measures for the November ballot pass or fail. If it doesn’t pass, the loss could be staggering, as much as $11 million dollars and $2.4 million in Transportation, or almost $14.1 million to FUSD per year. Ochoa also mentioned that COL amounts were estimated by the State so there could be potentially an additional $9.5 million revenue loss over the next 2-1/2 years. With that in mind, she stated that our reserves could be used to help offset that deficit, if the worst happens.

Fremont district parent, Hiu Ng commented: “ Why do we always have to listen to the worst predictions and numbers?”

Board trustee, Bryan Gebhardt responded, “This [State budget] continues to be uncharted territory with tremendous uncertainty. But, we did restore some programs [in this district] whereas other districts made additional cuts.”

Board clerk, Larry Sweeney lauded Ochoa for her “complex reports and clarifying information” on the reserves.” He added, “We’re transparent, so the public can have access to information.”

Superintendent Morris commented, “Our Board is required to pass a balanced budget. We have to come together and support what’s best for our children in the long run.”

Regular Board Agenda Item – Transportation Funding:
Although the District receives state funding to help with the cost of providing transportation services to Regular Education and Special Education students, it’s not enough. Basically, FUSD’s expenditures far exceed the revenue received from the State for transportation. For example: In 2010-2011, the total revenue received for Regular Education students was $1.7 million; however, total expenditures were $3.1 million, resulting in a gap (loss) of $1.4 million. A similar gap amount resulted for Special Education transportation during that time period as well.

And, it’s only going to get worse as the Governor has proposed eliminating state funding for all transportation services for the 2012-2013 school year. No matter the dire situation, Districts are still mandated [required] by the State to provide transportation services for Special Education students, even if the State doesn’t pay its fair share. This led trustee Sweeney to respond, “The State continues to tell us what to fund, but doesn’t provide the funds.”

Trustee Lara York noted that FUSD’s overall student ridership has declined the past few years and so transportation costs are more expensive now. She added, “AC Transit gets Federal money and is highly subsidized. We should be trying to find ways to help our families instead of always finding obstacles. Over 1,000 students need help getting to school.”

Regular Board Agenda Item – Update on Budget Assumptions:
This document primarily drives the District’s budget process as far as creating assumptions in regard to revenues and expenditures, which are needed to construct a proposed budget.

An area for concern is the new Transitional Kindergarten (Pre-Kindergarten) program that was supposed to begin this fall. The Governor has proposed eliminating the funding if tax measures fail. This could leave a lot of families and young children in the lurch, as the district might not have a final answer until June. Parents would then have to scramble to find other options for their kids. Superintendent Morris said, “We are in a wait and see mode. It’s difficult for families to plan their future.”

Supt. Morris is considering outreach to other districts to see what their plans are in case the program funds are cut. Another possible option, he suggested, is to delay starting the program, until students have turned the age of five. To cover some of the cost the District, at that time, could legally collect ADA (Average Daily Attendance) funds, which is paid to districts based on students ages five and above who attend school.

Regular Board Agenda Item –Adopt Strategic Focus for 2012:
The Board sets goals and priorities to focus on each year. This year the focus areas are:

1. Development and implementation of long-term goals and planning for facilities, technology areas and curriculum/instruction.
2. Instructional vision for the future.
3. Focus on fiscal management strategies.
4. Evaluation process, leadership and teamwork.
5. Collaboration with staff and students.
6. Facilities roadmap and needs. (Community meetings currently taking place for their input.)

Motion to approve adoption of the district-wide strategic focus plan was passed unanimously.

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