Friday, January 15, 2010

Special MDUSD Board Meeting - Ballooning Budget Cuts

Special School Board Meeting

As a result of the Governor’s budget proposal, the projected deficit in the school district ending balance as of June 2012 has grown from $17 million to $35 million. In consequence, we will need to make additional reductions to our expenditure budget.

The Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting on Wednesday, January 20, at 7pm at the Dent Education Center, 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord.

The purpose of the meeting is to solicit public input on the additional cuts that will need to be made. Staff will present a brief review of the budget, but the majority of the meeting will be spent listening to parents and community members regarding budget reductions.

This is a very important meeting, and I hope you will be able to attend.

Dick Nicoll
Interim Superintendent


  1. Can we receive a bit more than a brief review of the budget at the meeting (or can a board member respond here)? Particularly, I am trying to understand the POWERPOINT presentation from last meeting and to me, it looks like declining enrollment plays an even larger role in declining ADA monies than negative COLA. I am not convinced that it is the governor's budget proposal that is causing the shortfalls as it seems that our projections for enrollment were way off. I ask for this review to determine if school closures is indeed one of the best solutions.

  2. Will the attorneys be getting a well deserved raise of $40K at this meeting?

  3. Anon 12:53

    Declining enrollment was a $17 million cut, the rest is a result of the governor's plan.

  4. what's with the negative COLA?

    has the cost of living gone down without my knowledge?

  5. Sherry,

    Why do you continue to refuse to answer the question of: do you still stand behind your vote for the $40k attorney raise? I suspect you were just following Gary's instructions, but maybe you really do think it was the right thing to do. In light of the recent cuts do you still believe it was right or would you vote differently today? Your silence on this question has been deafening.

  6. I too adamantly disagree with the $27,000 (not $40,000)raise for the MDUSD general council. As bad as that vote was, you must ask yourself if it is fair to examine someone's record on a single vote that we may, or may not, completely understand. You must also remember it was a total of $40,000 in salary adjustments within a employee restructuring plan to save $220,000. I think the board has heard us loud and clear on this one.

    I just read the posts on the Claycord blog and Sherry is being raked over the coals for voting with Gary. I haven't looked over the total voting record but off the top of my head I know they did not vote the same on rolling over the teacher contract. That is not insignificant, regardless of which way you believe the vote should have gone.
    Ideologies will dictate voting records and it does not surprise me that they share common beliefs. I do not think Sherry is a push over. I do however think being a board member at this time is a thankless job.

    Wouldn't it be more constructive to talk about how terrible this situation is for our children? Why does our community value education enough to incessantly spew hatred on the Claycord blog but not enough to support a parcel tax?
    Why does 80% of of our community recognize the need for more funds for our schools but only 58% support a parcel tax? Why does 35% of our community say they would definitely or probably vote "no" if the election was today?
    Why can surrounding communities like Walnut Creek, Lafayette, San Ramon, Oakland, Pittsburg, Orinda, Richmond,etc... all support the education of their children by passing a parcel tax but we can't? Our community wants our board to do a good job but how many of us actually get involved? How many of us have actually written an email to a board member? How many of us have voiced our opinion at a board meeting, or even better, before a board meeting? How many of us read the upcoming agenda and see what kinds of things are being voted on that affect our children? How many of us are involved at a district level in order to try to understand some of these issues?
    It is going to take far more than a village to help our kids over the next several years. It is going to take an entire community to come together and show that we value education.
    To put it in a different perspective, I am far more disappointed in the apathy and misdirection of this community as a whole, than I am in any single board vote or any single board member.

  7. It was nice to hear that the entire budget cuts was not really the fault of the Govenor. Really the 17 mil that we were expecting is due to the economy and the rest due to declining enrollment (ecnomy) I think it is time to stop blaming and start fixing. I am not sure what the answer is. Clearly we are stuck because no one wants to give up anything. Education is a right but sports and music are not. We need to pay for our kids to play.

    Don't get me wrong I believe that sports and music are important but not all play so pay for your kids I will. Reading and Math are where we need to step it up a notch. Get rid of all the crap that does not work. Parents take responsibility for your kids and start teacheing them at home. Teachers quit assuming you know kids better then the parents.

    And people get real the Board does not respond to everyone. I am done with trying to e-mail them and call them.

  8. anon 3:15,

    People are against any parcel tax because they know that the three headed beast that currently runs the board will dole it out to two places:

    1. The teacher's union.
    2. Raises for their administrative buddies.

    As far as our kids actually reaping any benefits would just be a bridge to far.

  9. Do I support the decisions I made at the time I made them...You bet I do.

    If you look at how the vote goes, you will note that at least 80% of the time the entire board votes the same way. As far as the Gary/Sherry vote alike always, you will notice that there were two different items for vote that I was the lone nay or Gary was the lone nay. When you vote electronically as we do, I don't see anyone's results until they appear all votes are in.

    I've state many times, that if a parcel tax was passed, the money used would be controlled by an independent committee made up of parents and community members. This mirrors what happened when Measure C was passed and it was quite successful.

  10. 4:32 enough of your 3 headed beast crap. We are sick of it!! Where were you when the old board majority was being investigated and found at fault by the grand jury? I bet you supported April, Dick and Linda, maybe you even are April!
    This board majority has done nothing wrong. I understand the logical reasoning behind votes that have been made and I suggest you make an effort to do so. Read the board minutes, go to meetings, email the board members, do something productive. You are the lone person that posts the same thing on all the blogs. It's getting old.

  11. anon 7:40,

    Kiss my ass. I think the current board should be thrown in jail for thier performance to date. You must be the attorney. Are you rolling around naked in all the money that should be going to our children?

  12. Every single time I have emailed the board, I have gotten a response.

    Can the first 17 million really be attributed to declining enrollment? If I am correct, we lost 700 students to declining enrollment. For arguments sake, if the ADA is 6000, that only comes to a loss of 4,200,000.

    No one entity is responsible for this mess. Pointing fingers is not going to solve any problems. It is time to come together as a community and do whatever we can to fix this fiasco.

  13. It is the unions blocking change and the huge administrative costs statewide and the local board and county school board's incompetence (largely), and the mandates by the federal government and the state government (especially federal) on how school monies can be used. They are mostly all "targeted," so it has to go to certain things as mandated by the giant federal government. A massive amount also goes to special education, something no one wants to mention. I am all for helping kids who are really disabled or have serious problems, but we are paying for too many kids whose parents could afford some of this on their own. Plus, too many kids are being diagnosed with everything, labeled with disabled tags, and thrown on prescription drugs. I feel bad for these kids being labeled at such a young age when many of them just need to be busier, more challenged (many kids are bored at school leading to discipline or grade problems), or more parental attention. Sports could be paid for individually (with special exceptions).

  14. Wasn't there some sort of ruling that "pay to play" for sports is illegal? I'm just asking...I remember hearing something about that last spring.

  15. How can anyone blame Sherry or Gary for this mess. This whole thing has been a decade in the making. Does anyone not remember that California had a surplus budget in 2000. Then the Enron boys got that (with no help from Bush)after that was the bust and then the great recession. I for one have moved out of the MDUSD but I never blamed the board for this.

  16. anon 8:37,

    I don't think the board is to blame for the fiscal crisis. It is unfunded mandates from Sacramento which cause this.

    However, the board is to blame for the PR fiasco that resulted from the recent admin raises. The board has forgotten that perception is reality and although the raises were 100% warranted, the public perception of them has been soo poor that I fear a Parcel Tax is probably doomed to fail at this point.

  17. Anon 11:31
    So if the raises were 100% waranted, why was it a PR fiasco? I do agree that the another parcel tax will probally fail. I think this time its less likely to pass then last year. People are fed up! The best solution would to be close schools that have low enrollment. Its a unpopular idea, but we must face reality.

  18. I agree that the administrator’s raises were a poor choice and cannot be justified as part of an overall savings. However, I would focus on the large dollar spending that continues to go on behind closed doors. We keep hearing about cuts. But has anyone seen where all the money is going? In my limited experience with the district I have seen unjustified expenses in the millions. I know some of these decisions were made by the previous board. New decisions are being made now that have significant fiscal impact. I am not referring to cuts but rather decisions to spend new money unnecessarily. Will this board make better decisions? Or are the administrator’s raises an indication that the current board is no different than the previous board?

  19. The budget is located

    It also shows you the actuals vs planned for the previous school year.

    Additionally an independent audit was conducted as it is each year.

  20. Thank you but can you provide an accounting that shows specific expenditures. I do not think a document that broadly categorizes expenses provides the transparency the parents and tax payers deserve.

  21. Mr. Heathorn, please give examples of "unjustified spending in the millions . . . by the previous board." Such a broad accusation serves only to incite and is meaningless without details. Your statement assumes that "the previous board" made decisions by fiat. Check the Board meeting minutes. The overwhelming majority of votes over the years have been 5-0-0. Some have been to approve increased spending on technology, staff training, curriculum, facility improvements, and services to support students. Much of those expenses came from specific sources other than the General Fund. We don't need unsupported swipes at past Board actions. We need to hear clear rationale for current Board decisions and be assured that the needs of our students are being considered in every Board vote. Let's hope tonight's meeting provides the community with that assurance.

  22. I do have specific information and documentation on the exorbitant amount expended as a result of the previous board’s decisions. I have a document from a public official expressing his concern that this money could have funded the entire athletic program for the district. These decisions were made in closed session and therefore you will not find a record in the meeting minutes. I do not believe any good will come of me sharing this information unless the current board demonstrates the same sentiment as the previous board. What is spent is spent. The real issue is to stop this practice from continuing. It is my hope that the new board has learned from the errors of their predecessors. Controlling expenditures is a very different thing than cutting the budget. Controlling expenditures can save the programs. I am currently awaiting a decision by this board that will demonstrate to me that they have adopted a more reasonable and pragmatic practice. If so then I will believe the district is moving in the right direction and holds the concerns of the students in priority. If not then I worry for the future of this district’s educational system and I will share all that I have to help the parents protect the education of their children.

  23. Mr. Heathorn,
    I am taking time to respond to your statements because they are typical of ones posted on blogs. Someone makes an allegation that, if not challenged, gets circulated as fact even when it is not. You are saying that you have documentation and a "public official" has made comments that the previous MDUSD board (comprised of four of the five current board members) approved "exorbitant" expenditures, but you can't give details because the decisions were made in closed session. The law requires boards of public agencies to make public any expenditures they approve regarding the agency's finances, whether the decision was made in open or closed session. Expenditures approved in closed session typically relate to legal settlements, so some details of the case may remain confidential but not the amount approved. If the MDUSD Board approved an expenditure in a closed session, it would be reported out in the public session and recorded in the meeting minutes. It would also later appear in the district budget. According to district reports, the district's contribution to the high school athletic program totaled $721,400. (It is not the full cost of the program--parent contributions and booster clubs provide significant support.) A board decision to spend $721,400 on something (or things) would be a matter of public record. In that light, information you have about board-approved expenditures could be shared. I've interacted at one time or another with both previous and current board members and trust them to share their rationale for the decisions they make.

  24. I am aware of the requirement to report expenditures of public money. I am also aware that the intent of laws is not always followed without, arguably, breaking the law. I am not sure any laws have been broken, but I do question whether the elected officials are acting as trustees of the public’s money, always deciding for the sole benefit of the taxpayer. The board was fully aware of the ramifications of their decision(s). Although the amount to be expended was indefinite at the time they made their decisions, the magnitude of the expenditures was known but not reported. I do not know how the district reports the expenditures as they are spent. I do know that the categories in the budget are so broad that an expenditure of $1,000,000 can easily be lost in the numbers.
    When I inquired to Dr Nichol about how the public would feel about the expenditure, he alluded to a fund that did not fall under the reporting criteria. He called it some sort of grant money. Are you aware of any revenue source other than by Tax or Bond generation that would not fall under the public reporting laws? I was shocked by the statement and felt that if such a fund existed, especially if generated by donations; it surely was intended for the educational program to the benefit of the students and not to be spent irresponsibly.
    I understand your concern about statements made on a blog site; however I do not consider my statements as typical. I have chosen to reveal my identity to demonstrate my sincerity.
    The documents I have and the first hand information I possess are not confidential. Maybe it is best that you contact me directly to discuss how and when to share the information.

  25. How much would it save/cost if the district were to end all food service and contract that out to outside vendors. A district approval process, and specific criteria for nutrition. But has any other district done this? Then it's just a pass thru, kids pay for their lunches direct to vendors. Vendors pay a fee to maintain the kitchens for prep and serve. Couldnt' this work? Wouldn't this save a LOT?

  26. At last night's meeting Paul state that food services is a self funded program. The district receives funds from the federal government for free and reduced lunch and students pay for meals.

  27. I think that any savings that come from a vendor-based school lunch program is that newly-built schools no longer need to build a cafeteria. This obviously results in reduced construction costs. You'll find that newer public schools aren't built with cafeterias.

  28. Mr. Heathorn, based on your last post, I think the expenditure you are talking about was for the settlement of a legal case. If so, your issue is not about how the board chooses to spend money but about the legal advice and services the district is getting. Given the increase in staffing (a new Associate General Counsel position) the Board approved last spring and the salary increase the General Counsel will receive in July, it would seem that at least a majority of the Board believes the advice is sound and the services cost-effective.

  29. I am not referring to a legal settlement. That would be a different matter altogether. The services paid for were definitely not cost-effective.
    What is germane to the various opinions I see posted on the Blog site is the effect the districts spending decisions have on the education programs and the teacher’s compensation. The focus of the board seems to be to make up for revenue shortfalls by cutting important and maybe even essential programs whereas maybe some of the answer could be found in stopping unnecessary spending. It seems to me that the district exists solely for the educational benefit of the students, not to promote some unrelated agenda. This matter is so relevant that a public official went on record to express his concerns.
    As I stated before, what has been spent is spent. Something should be done to stop further unnecessary and unjustified spending. Do the tax payers know what is being spent and how those decisions are made if they are not being reported?

  30. Mr. Heathorn, you and I may be the only ones still posting on this comment site, but your points are well taken and deserve a wider audience--especially the question you pose: "Do the tax payers know what is being spent and how those decisions are made if they are not being reported?" In their campaign for "change," the Board's new majority promised improved communications, planning, and transparency. Under their leadership, all three areas have declined. The only way for the public to get information about MDUSD is through this and one other blog, the occasional article in the Times (which merely lists the latest budget cuts), and the online Board agenda and meeting video. And even through these sources, there is no way to know how seriously the Board's budget decisions are impacting the educational program because there is no apparent plan guiding the decisions. How will students do research with their school libraries closed? How will student records be maintained with fewer clerical staff and the (proposed) elimination of the Student Info System? Who helps teachers adjust to 10 more students in their classroom if training and support are removed? Who maintains the integrity of the district's educational programs if there is limited district oversight? How do increases for the General Counsel and his office (an Assistant GC is being appointed on Jan. 26) save the district money? If there are answers to these questions, we haven't heard them. The financial crisis is real. The Board President says the only solution is for the public to march on Sacramento and to vote for a parcel tax. To do so, the public needs far more details about the Board's spending decisions than have been reported this past year.

  31. Question for you:

    Why would a public be willing to march on Sacramento or obtain a parcel tax, when the money will be used to give out raises to attorneys and administrators? I think the public doesn't trust this board as far as it could throw them.

  32. 8:58, it sounds like you may be the same poster posting many of the same kinds of comments. I'm still waiting for you to come up with a solution to our issues? Are you done criticizing yet? Maybe you're just mad you didn't understand the 'raises' and the reasons for the personnel changes. Or maybe you're just mad it caught you off guard as you've not been paying attention. Either way, get over it, and start with a solution, or your blabbering means nothing.

  33. It is disappointing to hear that communications, planning, and transparency have declined under the leadership of the new board. I recall the energized campaign and the promises pledged. I was hopeful that the new board would bring improvement.
    I will prepare a summary of what I know and index it to the supporting documentation for the purpose of taking it public. As express by a public official this matter “is one of the great tragedies to education in the Bay Area”

  34. I posted this elsewhere, but wanted to "vent" here as well.

    Regarding the postings about the MDUSD budget cuts and the board. Paul was being honest. He did not shoot down every suggestion. Why can't some of you understand that if the State or Federal government mandates something, it has to be done, there is no skirting that.
    Writing to our legislators does no good because they already cast their votes in our favor. There are about 14 legislators from other areas that won't or don't vote in favor of funding schools properly.
    We have no bearing on them at all, as we cannot vote them out.
    Our only option at this point is to work on changing the laws.
    We have no choice but to cut things.
    EVERYONE needs to be willing to give up something. Teachers need to agree to a few furlough days. Non-teaching union members need to start contributing to their medical premiums (gone are the days of 100% of premiums paid by an employer), parents need to kick in more cash, unions need to back off and allow parents to volunteer more in classrooms, libraries and campus care. Administration needs to take furlough days as well. Those community members without students can help as well. If you don't want the crap offered in fundraisers, donate $10 to the school's PTA,or PFC, then 100% of your contribution goes to that organization. Save your Box Tops for Education, sign up your Safeway card on Escrip. Call your local school to find out how you can help.

    If we have 38000 students, and a budget deficit of 35 million, that is less than 100 per kid. If every single parent and employee of MDUSD found a way to "contribute" 100 bucks, whether through a cash contribution, or a cut to compensation, problem solved. I know it can't be that easy, but seriously, a population as large as that covered by MDUSD ought to be able to solve this issue!