SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Archive for the ‘Serna Center’ Category

Do we have the tools?

Transcript of Interview with Jeffrey Callison and Jonathan Raymond on Capitol Public Radio Insight, Wednesday July 7, 2010

Callison: Sacramento school teachers recently agreed to concessions but the city’s school district still faces big challenges. Today we’ll talk about those concessions and challenges. We’ll start our discussion with the Superintendent of Sacramento City Unified School District, Jonathan Raymond. Welcome back to Insight.

Raymond: Good morning, Jeffrey. Nice to be here.

Callison:  Well, we’ll talk about concessions in a minute, but first where does the District’s budget stand now? Are you in a better place than you were, let’s say, a month or two ago?

Raymond: Well we are from the standpoint of, you know, our budget is balanced and we have submitted it on to the state as required, by the end of June and certainly the recent concessions and agreements which we’ve reached with our teachers have helped.

Now, we had a balanced budget before that but what this has enabled us to do is to keep our class sizes in the K-3 area low, and to also bring back and restore the vast majority of our counselors, so that’s helped us.

Callison: If the budget was balanced before the concessions, why seek the concessions?

Raymond: Well so we can make sure that we keep a lot of our great teachers and our great counselors and that why it was important to me. We have to balance either way and we were prepared to do it by making reductions which would have increased our class sizes as well as would have eliminated the vast majority of our counselors at our high schools. These were tough choices that we had to make, but that’s the state of where we are in public education today in California.

Callison: The current contract was due to expire in 2011 and earlier this year the teacher’s union said they didn’t expect any negotiations on a contract before then. What did you say, if anything, to change that?

Raymond: Again, we went through a conversation. Part of it was I’m new, and getting to know each other, developing a relationship and that’s a process that takes time and I’m pleased to say we were able to accomplish…you know, nobody gets everything they want — that’s why it’s a negotiation. But we were able to reach an agreement that I think it’s good for our community, it’s good for our schools and it’s good for our employees.

Callison: Jonathan Raymond, Superintendent of Sacramento Unified School District. We’ve been trying for some time now to have a Sacramento City Teachers’ Association official on Insight, but we haven’t been able to schedule a date yet, but we remain committed to including the union’s perspective on Insight and as soon as we can schedule an official, we will.

Let’s bring into the conversation, Rachel Minnick, who is a parent of children at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School which is in the Sacramento City Unified School District. Rachel, Welcome.

Minnick: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Callison: As a parent I guess you’ve been watching what’s been going on, the District has had tough budget challenges as have many districts in California. The district and the union, the main union, came to an agreement. What do you make of all this?

Minnick: I think as a parent I’m pleased that the union was able to make some concessions to protect class sizes. My youngest is 8 years old so she’ll be going into third grade so she would be one of the kids that would be affected with the larger class sizes so I was very concerned about that. So I was just pleased to see that they were on board with a lot of the economic realities that the rest of us are facing in the world, you know, I’m paying more for my health benefits, I’m furloughed a little bit in my hours, so I appreciated that they were willing to take on some of that load as well, and share some of the pain.

Callison: When you say you were furloughed, are you a state worker?

Minnick: I’m not a state worker, I work for a non-profit but we are state-funded so we had to make some adjustments to our work force in order to accommodate the work and continue to serve the clients.

Callison: Jonathan Raymond, what were the main deals struck between your administration and the teacher’s association?

Raymond: Several Jeffrey…First we were able to — the teachers agreed to take three days equivalent salary reduction for two years.

Callison: So it’s basically a furlough?

Raymond: That’s basically a furlough — the equivalent of a furlough, but it’s not a furlough and that’s good news because it means — it doesn’t decrease the number of instructional days during the school year. Many districts have gone to that but we think it’s really important —

Callison: So the days will still be worked then?

Raymond: They’re still going to work, that’s correct, so we’re not going to reduce the calendar, the academic year will stay the same, which is important. They’ve also made some adjustments to health insurance. We had a grand jury report earlier this spring which highlighted our long-term health liability, and so there are a number of things through restructuring of prescription drugs and looking at some of the out-of-area costs, as well as a monthly contribution the teachers will be making toward funding that long-term health liability are very important. And one that’s also important is the changing of our professional development time and turning that into ongoing common planning K-12 which is an opportunity for teachers to get together and collaborate. That’s now going to be throughout the school district K-12 which is very important for us.

Callison: The concessions were aimed at reducing layoffs of teachers and other certificated staff, still I guess the District has lost teachers?

Raymond: We have lost some, yes, because our funding overall has been continually reduced. Many of the categorical funds, these are the special dollars for state and federal programs are being reduced and there are positions — again 90 percent of our budget is personnel, so when the funding goes down we have to make corresponding reductions.

Callison: Now there’s a political aspect to the layoffs issue and that is that layoffs in school districts certainly in Sacramento are governed by seniority rules, bargained between the administration and unions, and what that tends to mean, as I understand, is that newer teachers to the District which often means the newer teachers, period, are the first to be laid off. If there are layoffs, has that been the case in the Sacramento city schools district?

Raymond: Like other school districts that has been the case, and that is a challenge that we have to deal with and we have to face. There are certain ways we can work with that and this year we have skipped math, science and special education teachers. That’s an area that we’re always hiring even in this down time. Those are always hard to staff positions, so we are — through a provision called skipping — we can work with that, but that impact is felt here as it is in other school districts.

Callison: Rachel Minnick, parent of students in the Sacramento city schools district what do you think about seniority and layoffs? The teachers union argues that more experienced teachers presumably have more value because, well, they’re more experienced. They also tend to cost more because they’ve been in the system longer. If the slate could be wiped clean, how would you approach the issue of layoffs and seniority?

Minnick: I’d love to see a really reliable evaluation tool so that we keep the best of the best and we really pay them a premium because they really are the most important people in the community, I think, outside of parents, they are really important so I would love to see that.

And just to give an example, when my daughter was a kindergartner, she was kind of a victim of some of the hiring practices. Her kindergarten teacher was a newer teacher and a few weeks into the school district year, they had to evaluate the number of positions and the number of teachers, so my daughter’s kindergarten teacher actually was laid off — I don’t know where she went, I don’t know all the specifics because it’s a personnel issue, but she was replaced by a longer-term teacher about two weeks into my daughter’s first year of public school and I picked her up and she said, “Mommy, my teacher is going away.”

And I said, “Oh, I don’t think that’s true, maybe she’s just taking a vacation, she’s going to a wedding.” No. She really did lose her job and this teacher came in and taught and then during winter break, decided to retire. So when my daughter came back from winter break the teacher was gone. So it was this really interesting revolving door and it just had to do with somebody that had seniority but got moved around because of the number of students at different schools. So it was very difficult and very emotional for us.

Callison: Jonathan Raymond, Superintendent: If there were no seniority rules, how would you handle layoffs of teachers? Presumably, if you were able to lay off, without regard to seniority, you could layoff fewer teachers if you laid off more experienced teachers who make more money.

Raymond: I think the way to look at it Jeffrey, and Rachel pointed it out, is do we have the tools that enable us to determine, you know, who are the most effective teachers? And I would say we don’t. And that’s an area that we need to start to do a lot of work in and that’s an area where we need to work together with our teachers, with our principals, you know, with all of educators to find out those kind of tools which enable us to really determine, you know, which teachers are enabling our students to learn the most and the fastest and connect with our kids.

There’s a lot of work that’s occurring around the country, much of it funded through foundation and other philanthropic dollars, and that’s work that I think we need to start to pay attention to and come together around and all of us, collaboratively work together to see what can happen.

But right now, you know, the law is the law and so seniority governs and that’s the law that we live by.

Callison: Speaking of the law, Senator Darrell Steinberg, and the president pro tem in the California legislature has authored a bill that would amend the seniority law so that teacher layoffs were spread more evenly across a district because they tend to happen in lower performing schools, which for one reason or another, tend to have younger teachers. Do you agree with that bill which could become law?

Raymond: We’re taking a look at to see what the impact is. I want to look at that. The other part of that is why are we concentrating our newer, younger teachers in our lowest performing schools and that’s something we can do something about as a school district. So at the very front end, you know, we need to take a look at how we’re distributing our teachers, where we’re hiring and who we’re putting in and we’re working on that right now in Sacramento with our six superintendent priority schools. We’re trying to our best leadership, our best teachers, the best opportunities for kids in some of our most challenging schools.

Callison: Rachel Minnick, are your kids aware of all of the politics and the tough money situation at their schools? Do you talk about it with them?

Minnick: I think my kids are totally worn out on the discussion because my husband and I spend a lot of time talking about this. My kids go to a really wonderful school and it’s a magnet school where kids are at or above grade level, there’s parent involvement — it’s a wonderful school, but I don’t know that it’s a great representation of every school in our district and I wish I could say that that was the case, so I don’t know that my kids really know what it’s like to go to a different type of environment or a different type of school. I went to those schools, so I know, but I don’t think that my kids know.

Callison: Finally, Jonathan Raymond, let’s quickly touch on two related issues — the California Department of Education recently released an updated and expanded list of California schools on the fiscal early-warning list and Sacramento city schools remains on the list and in fact, almost every Sacramento County school district is on the list, as are some others in surrounding counties. Is anything going to happen soon, on the department level with the city schools district? Is there going to be any action taken either by the county board of education or the state department of education?

Raymond: I think the issue, Jeffrey, is one of finding some stability in funding. That’s one of the crises in public education right now which is why I think, right now, confidence is really shaken in the institution, which is a bad thing for everybody. It’s difficult to manage when you don’t know what your funding is going to be. Tell us it’s going up, tell us it’s going down, tell us it’s staying at the same spot and it’s a lot easier to manage to — but with uncertainty, with lack of clarity, with this really great unknown, it’s really challenging and what makes it really difficult in this profession is because we’re an organization of people, you know, is keeping people motivated to do the work.

As I say, teachers and principals can’t have a bad day. That doesn’t mean that they don’t feel well but what it means is when you’re in that classroom with 25 or 35 kids, you know, you have to be on and the great majority of the adults in our system I’m really proud of because they don’t have a bad day. They do what’s right and they do what’s needed for kids.

Callison: And finally, you’ve asked your board to create a new executive position at the city schools district, a chief accountability officer. Is this the time to add another manager to a system that’s laying off people?

Raymond: So we’re not adding another position, in fact, we’re reducing the cabinet level positions from eight positions down to seven. We’ve decreased our central administration by close to six million dollars. Dozens of positions at the Serna Center have been eliminated, it’s really want of saying — you know, we need to change the way we do business — if we want the same outcomes, you keep the same structure. You want different outcomes, you’ve got to change the structure and you’ve got to change personnel. We’re aligning around our new strategic plan — it’s our vision and it’s road map for moving the District forward, and these positions align with that. It’s about moving schools forward, as Rachel said, we have a number of schools in our district that do a wonderful job. They, too, can do better, it’s a question of holding our schools accountable for continuously improving and moving up that developmental sequence.

Callison: Again, we’ve been trying for some time now to have a Sacramento City Teachers’ Association official on Insight, we haven’t been able to schedule a date yet but we continue to work on that.

In the meantime, Jonathan Raymond, Superintendent of Sacramento City Unified School District, thanks for joining us along with Rachel Minnick, who is a parent of students at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in Sacramento city unified schools. Thank you both for joining us.

Raymond, Minnick:  Thank you.


Written by scusdobserver

July 8, 2010 at 10:28 am

Special meeting tonight

Written by scusdobserver

June 30, 2010 at 4:49 pm

SCUSD 10-14 plan — putting children first

Read the SCUSD document here:—2014-Putting-Children-First

Remaining dates for community input:

July 6    Tuesday    6:00 p.m.    Leonardo da Vinci K-8 School
July 7    Wednesday    6:00 p.m.    John F. Kennedy High School
July 8    Thursday    6:00 p.m.    Luther Burbank High School
July 13    Tuesday    6:00 p.m.    Serna Center

Link to send an e-mail to your board member. Choose by area.

Written by scusdobserver

June 29, 2010 at 9:52 am

No Tatoo Parlors

In today’s Sacramento Bee, Robert Faturechi writes about the district’s plan to lease office space at the Serna Center.

Also in today’s paper, an editorial espouses the view that teacher layoffs are not inevitable if the district and the union can agree on voluntary salary reductions. In the comment section a writer claiming to be a former SCUSD board member weighs in on the matter.

Written by scusdobserver

February 17, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Layoffs, Serna Center