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Denair’s Debacle

POSTED November 7, 2013 8:37 p.m.

The Denair Unified School District has problems, serious problems.  Regrettably, the situation is not likely to be resolved through name-calling, finger-pointing and reputation-bashing in columns of our local newspaper, as interim superintendent, Walt Hanline has seen fit to do this week.

Denair teachers know the district is indeed suffering financial hardship primarily caused by poor administrative decisions to take out expensive construction loans with limited means to pay them back; to maintain high levels of staffing while its student population shrank; and to maintain charter schools it cannot afford.

 

Last year, realizing the depth and breadth of the financial situation, the Stanislaus County Office of Education assigned a fiscal advisor to the district. Unfortunately, much of the advice that was provided has been ignored. In an August 15th letter to the district, the Stanislaus County Office specifically noted, “…our warnings and prescribed actions have largely gone unheeded, despite the considerable resources provided by the county office.”

Because they recognized the district’s weak financial condition, for the past several years Denair teachers agreed to six furlough days and related pay cuts to help keep the district afloat. In fact, this past spring, the teachers were prepared to agree to some additional temporary pay cuts to buy the district time to get its financial house in order.  The district rejected that proposal.

 

In Denair today, teacher salaries are already 12 percent behind the county average.  Yet, Hanline’s most recent offer to the teachers is a permanent 11 percent pay cut.  In effect, this means teachers would be working for 22 days without pay; one full month – a rather large sacrifice by any estimation, but especially a blow for a staff that’s already among the lowest paid in the county. Were Hanline to impose the 11 percent cut he seeks, the district would be in danger of losing the excellent teachers it has and its ability to recruit the quality teachers the community deserves.

We can’t help but believe that our district’s problems have been exacerbated by the appointment of Walt Hanline as interim superintendent last April.  Rather than putting our limited resources into the classroom, the high-priced $600-a-day interim superintendent is wasting them on lawyers and consultants who are giving the district bad advice. Shortly after being hired, Hanline replaced the school district’s attorney with Roman Munoz, a longtime friend and close associate in a for-profit private venture. Since May, Munoz has been paid more than $140,000 in fees for unnecessary and counterproductive actions (nearly the cost of 3 teachers) yet neither Hanline, Munoz, nor Board members have agreed to donate 11% of their yearly income to help the district.

Since Hanline’s appointment, there has been one boondoggle after another. After missing an important legal deadline, the district invalidated the March 15 deadline to send out layoff notices to teachers. Later, the district’s “experts” advised the board to lay off teachers in August, despite a ruling by an Administrative Law Judge stating the district had no legal grounds to do so. Yet, the team of Hanline and Munoz convinced the school board to disregard the judge’s ruling and lay off teachers anyway, forcing the teachers to file a lawsuit against the district for pursuing an illegal action.

Negotiating parties are supposed to “bargain in good faith.” However, after just one session the teachers were forced to file with the Public Employee Relations Board for no less than six violations.  This is not a typical bargaining scenario. Instead of working with teachers to solve the district’s problems, Hanline is creating deep divisions by taking rigid positions and unnecessary actions. 

 

Hanline’s behavior and his close ties to his lawyer are not unique to Denair.  He engaged in the same pattern of profit and poor judgment – with the same lawyer – in Ceres and Natomas, where the two also created divisions and low morale by seeking extreme and unnecessary pay cuts from the staff.

 

Our hope is that the DUSD Board will soon appoint someone who is interested in sitting down to rationally solve the district’s financial dilemma instead of engaging in name-calling and unnecessarily expending precious district resources.    Denair’s teachers remain willing to do what is fair so they can return to what brought them into teaching in the first place, … educating students.

 

 

 Steve Miller

California Teachers Association

Regional UniServ Staff

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