School district's annual report highlights initiative to cut costs

DOWNEY - The school years 2008-09 and 2009-10 were watersheds in the district's history. There were both organizational and fiscal realignments in the district, due mainly to the resignations of a few key administrators and an almost paralyzing contraction in its funding sources. But they have merely served to stiffen the district's resolve in facing the future.This storyline is told in detail in its 2010-11 annual report, which was formally presented to the board last Tuesday. In trenchant terms, superintendent Wendy Doty said the report provides a "summary of the activities of the past year and makes "recommendations for future years." In broad strokes, the report traces, for example, the change of name of the former Instructional Services Department to the more descriptive Educational Services Department, "to better describe the major functions, beyond 'instruction', that are the responsibilities of the personnel within the department." In line with this, also to realize savings, the positions of director of elementary education and director of secondary education positions were combined into a single title -'director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.' The former director of categorical programs became 'director of instructional support programs.' The 'director of pupil services' was changed to "director of student services," while the director of support programs and career/technical education additionally assumed supervision of the Downey Adult School. Also, the 'program specialist for curriculum' position was upgraded to 'program administrator for curriculum, instruction, and assessment.' (All job descriptions were updated to reflect the employees' revised duties and responsibilities.) In the meantime, a significant initiative to upgrade the professional development of fifty-two grades 3 through high school Algebra I teachers was initiated, the training program to last three years. Other training programs included the hiring of a consultant specializing in behavioral intervention with a focus on autism to provide professional development to site administrators and teachers, as well as, through regularly scheduled meetings, providing them professional development and training coordinated by the various departments within Educational Services. Other important initiatives: each principal developed an action plan highlighting instructional improvements targeted for the significant subgroups at the sites, particularly focusing on the economically disadvantaged, ethnic students, English learner and special education students. A major highlight of the year just past was 1,832 graduating high school students receiving their diplomas; even as students in the class of 2011 wee awarded over $559,900 in local scholarships. Meanwhile, the report noted Downey Adult School continuing to revise its course of study throughout the year to meet the changing needs and interests of the adult population. Future district plans include: continuing to monitor the subgroup populations, target instruction and teacher training to improve student learning. The district is meanwhile preparing for the implementation of transitional kindergarten in the 2012-13 school year, even as Columbus High School is being readied to become fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). There was a bit of encouraging news on the business services front. The report said: "The 2010 fiscal year continued the reversal of declining enrollment for a third consecutive year, helping to partially mitigate the effect of ongoing cuts in education funding per pupil." However, the possibility of a shortfall exists in the state budget. "If the shortfall exceeds $2 billion, further education funding cuts could be required by mid-year. Thus, among other things, the prospects of restoring cuts, let alone enhancing the educational programs in place, continue to look bleak for the foreseeable future." In view of the above, business services resolves that, as in the past, staff will be working hard to lessen any negative fiscal impact, including efforts to increase rates of attendance across all grade levels, but most importantly cut costs and tightly control staffing levels in all areas. The report explains what has been happening: "The district made drastic budget reductions of $5.3 million in 2008-09, $5.3 million more in 2009-10, and a daunting $11.8 million in 2010-11. Even so, it is projected that the district will experience a drawdown of an additional $3 million in general fund reserves in FY2011-12 as the federal stimulus funding for schools will have been completely expended. This funding was a godsend in staving off even more draconian cuts in core programs, including elementary class size reduction. Without these funds, not only would the basic education delivery system have been compromised, but there would have been an even more severe impact on the local economy." Therefore, it went on, "In this current climate of stagnant growth and high unemployment at the state level in conjunction with a continuing dysfunctional (albeit slightly improved) state budget process, it appears that the slog though austerity will continue for at least three more years, through 2013-14." A dire forecast, indeed. Then it said: "The 3-year general fund projection indicates a continued decrease in unrestricted general fund reserves due to possible renewed declining enrollment and either negative, flat, or extremely low cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) over this period. Consequently, the management team will continue to monitor this closely, particularly as it relates to collective bargaining. As always, these projections will be updated twice during the year ahead as conditions may change. The base revenue limit funding per pupil still comprises about 74 percent of the district's total annual revenue, and the sources of the remaining 26 percent of revenues (federal, state, categorical, and local) are not all guaranteed a similar COLA increase from year to year." "The district has been able to weather the severe fiscal crisis in the short term," it went on, "by relying on its strong reserve position as well as the result of the following pro-active measures in collaboration with staff and with the various collective bargaining units. Also, fiscal stabilization efforts included staffing reductions in both certificated and classified employee positions; staff reorganization as a direct outcome of vacancies created by the Supplemental Employee Retirement Program (SERP), cuts in capital outlay, contracted services, overtime and other non-essential expenditures, maximization of flexibility in the use of specific categorical fund sources through the year 2014-15, an additional collective bargaining agreement with the certificated employee unit reached in a very collaborative process, which allows for increased flexibility in primary grade class sizes and the resulting savings in personnel costs." And, "We will continue to take proactive measures to ensure our continued fiscal stability in the areas in which the governing board and administration still retain local control. In the ensuing years we will continue to evaluate the potential for school closings and consolidations as a means of further improvements in operational cost efficiencies." In the end, there has been no better statement of the district's overriding, reassuring mission than the one printed on the report's back cover: "The mission of the DUSD is to provide the highest quality education in a safe, trusting environment, to maximize the achievement of all students; and to utilize the resources of the home, school and community. The district provides a comprehensive curriculum, based on rigorous academic standards, that is responsive to the strengths and needs of our students. We are committed to developing responsible citizens who will be confident, creative, and productive members of a global society."

********** Published: October 20, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 27