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Fremont Unified School District Board meeting report

By Miriam G. Mazliach

March 20, 2012

The following are highlights from the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) Board meeting held on February 22, 2012.

Closed Session:
Superintendent James Morris reported that three temporary employees were dismissed in action taken prior to the Board meeting.

Community Leadership/Superintendent’s Report:
Superintendent Morris mentioned that teaching and administrative employees would be participating in an upcoming “Best Practices Conference” to share ideas and information.

He commented that the district’s Edtv station on Comcast should be used for more than broadcasting Board meetings. “It needs to be used as a resource for topical programs to air issues and talk about subjects such as Bullying, and Everyday Math for example.” With that in mind, the district is looking for a volunteer host for a weekly television program that would air once a week at 7 p.m.

Oral Communications/Public Comment:
Madison Hirsch, a student at Mission San Jose High School, informed the Board and Staff about the problems with the heating and air conditioning systems at the school. It also appears that there are similar problems at other district schools as well, based on comments from several Board members.

Regular Board Agenda Item – State Budget Update:
Assistant Superintendent of Business, Micaela Ochoa, detailed that a few weeks ago, the Governor signed SB81 into law, which shifted the Transportation cuts to the Revenue Limit. This conversion caused the district’s deficit factor to grow to 20.6 percent and created a bigger hit or negative impact for FUSD, which could result in adding one additional furlough day for the 2011-2012 school year.

As far as 2012-2013, the district could end with zero Undesignated Funds that had previously been set aside. The Governor’s proposal increases the deficit and with the addition of COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) there would be even further revenue reductions.

At this time we are looking at a loss of $370 of ADA (Average Daily Attendance) per student, or approximately $11.7 million. Although FUSD does have reserves, the district is projecting to deficit spend.

Oral Communications/Public Comment:
Hiu Ng, a district parent addressed the Board and Staff stating, “As a gesture of good will, don’t make the teachers/employees take another furlough day and lose the money they deserve.”

Regular Board Agenda Item – Transportation Funding:
Assistant Superintendent Micaela Ochoa reported that the Governor is now proposing to cut Transportation 100 percent for both Regular Education and Special Education. However, all districts are mandated by the State to provide Transportation Services for Special Education students in particular, even if the State doesn’t pay its required amount. So, the question posed was, “How do we do this if funding is not given to us [by the State]?”

Further discussion ensued on options such as raising fees to Regular Education families using Transportation Services, optimizing the number of students and routes, looking at overloads, and reviewing field trip costs. Next, Ochoa will gather more information regarding this situation and will return at the March 28 Board meeting with recommendations for transportation services for the 2012-2013 school year.

Regular Board Agenda Item – Report on Facilities Bond/Godbe Research:
In January, the Board had approved a contract with the firm of Godbe Research to initiate a survey of Fremont voters, similar to the one completed for the recent Parcel Tax, to determine support for a Facilities Bond. If passed, the bond revenue would be used to improve, fix and update school sites in the district.

Following up in regard to the poll, conducted during February 8 - 13, a Godbe staff representative explained that based on the 600 sample responses, indicators showed that the voters support the local schools in large numbers. After discussion with the Board, to target the amount that Fremont homeowners would be willing to pay if the bond measure passes, a recommendation was made of $40 (per $100,000 of home’s assessed value) if placed onto a June ballot, or $49 (per $100,000 of home’s assessed value) if on a November ballot.

At the March 28 Board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Ochoa will return with the final wording for the Facilities bond measure to be placed on the ballot.

Regular Board Agenda Item – Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee:
Desrie Campbell, a member of the 2002 Health & Safety Bond Oversight Committee reported that their work is nearing its end as 305 projects have been closed (completed), nine are complete but not yet closed and two are in design with work to be finished by June 2012. The bond’s initial proceeds of $158 million increased by an additional 15.7 percent in interest income, resulting in a total financial resource of $173.8 million for the district’s many projects.

The Committee asked to extend the expiring terms of several members for an additional few months until all projects have all been completed. The Board unanimously approved extension of the terms.

In a related agenda item, the Board also unanimously approved the Audit Reports on the 2002 Health & Safety Bond, as performed by the Certified Public Accounting firm of Vavrinek, Trine, Day and Company. An annual audit is a requirement of Proposition 39 and FUSD policy. “No findings” resulted, indicating that all money was spent appropriately and reflected that a $1.3 million balance remained in the fund.

Regular Board Agenda Item – Irvington High HVAC:
Irvington High school does not have a functioning HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) system in either their Library or Music Room. This need was included on the additional projects list, previously approved by the Board on January 26, 2011. At this meeting, the Board unanimously approved allocating $440,000 from the remaining balance of the 2002 Health & Safety Bond to cover the design costs for this project. However, Deferred Maintenance Funds will cover the actual construction costs.

Regular Board Agenda Item – Decrease Number of Certificated/Classified Employees:
Due to the current budget situation with the State, districts have to make difficult decisions in order to file a balanced budget with the County and State. Superintendent Morris stated, “The financial crisis for schools in California is very, very real. We have to make decisions.” He added, “We’re currently deficit spending $5-$10 million per year. We have to adopt a balanced budget by June, for three years.”

Out of the $265 million FUSD budget, personnel costs (certificated, classified and administrative) account for 81 percent. So, as a precautionary measure the district needs to reduce or eliminate designated positions for the 2012-2013 school year, and inform the employees by March 15, as required by Education Codes and Board Policies. In January, the Board acted to release 250 temporary certificated teachers. The reductions, recommended at this meeting, included many classified personnel and administrative positions, although the district has one of the lowest administrative ratios around, according to Morris. There is still time for the situation to change, as final action does not need to be taken until May 2012.

Oral Communications/Public Comment:
Phyllis Hamilton, Principal at Thornton Junior High and President of the Fremont School Management Employees group, asked that the Board not accept the recommendation. “To reduce the number [of school principals, vice principals, program managers, etc.] will reduce the success of the students. We’ve been doing more work with less and are willing to work with the Board,” stated Hamilton.

Hiu Ng, a district parent added, “I do not support any pink slips. Work through the challenges!”

Board President, Lily Mei told those present that the Superintendent and the three Assistant Superintendents had “waived their contract timelines,” which would allow the Board to lay them off as well, if necessary. This act of solidarity brought a hush to the crowd.

Mei continued, “We have to reserve ourselves and be practical and good stewards of the public’s trust.” Board member, Larry Sweeney stated, “This is a preliminary motion and just something we have to do. We can’t really have schools without principals.”

After further discussion, the motion to approve the resolution for the reduction of employees was passed with four ayes (Mei, York, Sweeney and Gebhardt) and one nay (Wu).

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