DOWNEY - Let's look at the sunny side first: Superintendent Wendy Doty says that, among other bright spots, the Downey Unified School District has a 92 percent graduation rate, which is "one of the highest rates in the surrounding districts"; has experienced continuous yearly growth in its state API and federal AYP test scores; enjoys continued reduction in suspensions and expulsions; boasts upgraded facilities at Warren and Downey High; has realized energy savings of over $9 million since 2002; has acquired a lead role in the advocacy of Character Counts ("no mean thing"); and thus remains strongly committed to its philosophy of "strong minds, strong bodies, and strong spirit."On the other side, however, is the prospect of more district budget cuts, resulting directly from failed state budget priorities. This means, among other things, dipping into its reserves ("which, as everyone knows, can go rather quickly"), as well as increased class sizes-from a ratio of 20:1 to 22:1-in grades 1-3, the details of which are yet to be threshed out with the teachers' union); cutting a few programs, including suspending some middle school sports programs; cutting three teachers at the Downey Adult School as well as classified positions that have been purposely left vacant (some $760,000 saved this way)-all aimed at an overall savings of $5.5 million, to fill a hole in its budget. Savings from the 42 teachers opting for midyear retirement some of whom have returned as substitute teachers are estimated at $820,000. The state has cut $250 per student for two consecutive years now and has not provided for a cost-of-living allowance increase, and this situation is likely to get worse instead of better, according to asst. superintendent/business services Kevin Condon. Tied in with all this is an ongoing realignment of administrative positions, again aimed at saving money. Assistant superintendent of personnel services Stan Hanstad has announced his retirement; he is part of the large group of veteran teachers, administrative staff, and classified personnel who either have or are opting for early retirement, which will effectively save the district some change. For instance, Roger Brossmer, heretofore Adult School principal and concurrent City Councilmember, will assume part of Hanstad's regular functions at the district office upon the latter's exit on June 30, but at the degraded title of senior director/personnel services at a corresponding salary scale, which again translates to some savings for the district; and so on. Computations on final savings figures will have to wait till June 30, Condon said, but he reckons the savings from the retirement of said classified personnel and five management staff (including, we understand, Sarah Cairns, who has been serving as director of secondary education) will be considerable. It is believed that these positions will henceforth remain unfilled, the duties to be spread around among existing staff. Translation: still more additional savings. Doty reiterated in her state of the schools address to the Downey Coordinating Council Wednesday that "We plan on doing everything we can to save money." Contrary to what one might hope, the realization that the Downey Unified School District is not immune from the blows inflicted by budget cuts is hitting home.
********** Published: March 5, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 46