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Fremont Unified School District Board meeting report

By Miriam G. Mazliach

May 22, 2012

The following are highlights from the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) Board meeting held May 9, 2012.

Superintendent’s Report:
Hopkins Jr. High School recently won the National Science Bowl Competition (at the Junior/Middle School level), held in Washington D.C. Over 1,140 teams competed in the event. The victorious five member team is comprised of Catherine Zeng, Brian Tseng, Karthik Bharathala, Mark Choi, and Dhruv Muley. The students’ coach/teacher is Dr. Paul Ricks.

The Board passed a resolution in recognition of “Day of the Teacher.” and Superintendent Dr. James Morris stated, “We owe a huge amount of honor and credit to our teachers for their hard work, day in and day out.”

President of the Fremont Unified District Teachers Association, Brannin Dorsey, added, “Teaching is a lot about connecting with our students and igniting a spark within them.” She recalled her favorite teacher, Mr. Russell, who taught her to “Dream beyond your limits.”

Director of Certificated Personnel, Juan Espinosa introduced FUSD’s selection for Teacher of the Year -- Jennifer Teguia of Kennedy High School. A special reception had been held on May 8, in recognition of all of the district’s nominated teachers.

Update on iFUSD:
To recap, this past September, Mission San Jose High School (MSJHS) students Andrew Han and Sumukh Sridhara had created, launched and donated to the school district, an “app” (application) designated “iFUSD.” When loaded onto an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, it enables users to more easily access information from the FUSD website and receive “push notifications” (messages) from the district.

Since the launch, iFUSD has gained 1,700 users and those surveyed, found the app to be extremely useful, rating it 5 stars!

At the May 9 Board meeting, Han and Sridhara were joined by Adi Jung, also a MSJHS student, to present an update -- version 1.2 of iFUSD, not only for the iPhone but additionally for the Android. This latest adaptation has some functional improvements and iPad compatibility.

Since the Android takes up 61 percent of the market share of smartphones, it was logical to have the additional iFUSD version for those users. The Android version contains over 3,000 lines of Java, as compared to the 5,000 lines for the iPhone. It has a faster speed, due to its use of Google Cloud.

According to Han, iFUSD on the Android platform has all of the features of iFUSD for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, except push notifications, which will be released at a later date.

Han, Sridhara and Jung also announced that they would “open source.” This means publishing the source code online for anyone to use, (an open source mobile app) and becoming one of the first school districts to do so.

In regard to the reason for sharing the app code, the students quoted the district’s Director of Technology, John Krull, “To create a community of developers and educational institutions, to build upon the foundation we’ve created, to provide awareness and involvement with education.”

To download the apps, go to Google Play or the Appstore on your phones and search “iFUSD.”

Superintendent Dr. James Morris explained, “Year after year, the Board is required to provide a balanced budget to the county by June 30 for the school year and two ‘out’ (additional) years. We are deficit spending (above our income) at approximately $10 - $11 million a year. Employees across the district are stepping up and taking on more to fill in the gaps,” said Morris.

Assistant Superintendent of Business, Micaela Ochoa, again outlined best and worst case budget scenarios for the district. Based on whether or not the Governor’s Tax Initiative passes or fails, the cuts could range from $11.7 million to potentially $31.4 million. Since 2008, the district has lost about $95 million in state funding.

For now, FUSD needs to cut $8 million in order to balance its budget; but if the tax initiative fails, then the Board would have the even tougher task of cutting $30 million over the next two years.

As salaries make up the largest portion of the district’s budget, that being a “negotiated” item between employee unions and district office staff, there are only a few “non-negotiated items, which can be cut by the Board. One such area is class size; increasing the number of students per class could result in a savings of $2.2 million. However, the Board had received 1,000 parent letters against increasing class size, which they felt is detrimental to student learning.

Trustee Lara York stated, “This is not a comfortable thing to do,” and suggested that if teachers would take a 1-1/2 percent pay cut, the district might not need to increase class sizes.

Ultimately, with no options in sight for the time being, School Board trustees voted unanimously to raise class sizes.

Homework Policy:
Director of Secondary Education, James Maxwell and Director of Elementary Education, Debbie Amundsen, reviewed some changes to the Board Policy on Elementary and Secondary Homework. Over 657 surveys had been received from various school site councils, parent groups, etc., providing input and comments regarding the fairly new homework policy which has been in effect. Maxwell and Amundsen reported that most of the parents seemed pleased and have noticed a reduction in the amount of homework assigned, especially at the elementary level.

However, district parent Ann Crosbie questioned some of the actual homework time amounts, especially at the high school level. She asked the directors to “re-do the survey and get student input which would be more meaningful.”

Trustee Lara York added that although every student, teacher and school is different, she is glad that the Board decided to pursue this policy in recognition of schools and the important value of family time.

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