Over 400 concerned parents and community members filled the Denair Middle School Gymnasium on Thursday night to have their worst fears realized as the Denair Unified Board of Trustees voted to layoff teachers and staff members, and close the Denair Charter Academy.
The trustees unanimously voted to convert Denair Charter Academy to an alternative school for 2013-14, while laying off its 18 hourly teachers. In addition, trustees voted to layoff one high school math teacher, one drama teacher, a middle school physical education teacher and a half-time kindergarten teacher. The board also unanimously voted to lay off one full-time supervisor of maintenance, effective Jan. 31.
Tensions flared during the board meeting as Denair residents question the leadership of the superintendent and integrity of the board members.
“This makes me angry,” said Denair resident Joyce Davis. “I went to Denair from kindergarten through high school and had wonderful teachers and many wonderful experiences. I was hoping my grandchildren would share the same experiences as I did. My concern now is that many parents are going to pull their kids out.”
Trustees also voted to pass a 3.5 percent pay cut of management salaries. Superintendent Ed Parraz consented to give up a 10 percent cut from his $120,000 annual salary, unexpectedly at the meeting. Board members Julian Wren and Louisa Allen volunteered to give up their stipends in order to reduce the budget.
“I heard everybody,” said Parraz. “I take everything you said at heart. I will take that 10 percent cut starting January because this district means so much to me.”
Emotions were high during the public comment portion of the meeting. Denair students spoke with fear and uncertainty of losing their sports and after school programs.
“The Superintendent tells us over and over that he’s putting the kids first,” said 6th grader Nickolas Starks. “How is he putting us first when he wants to take away our after-school programs?”
Trustees heard from many students, parents and former board members expressing their anger at the board members and their decisions with the district’s finances. One Denair resident stormed out of the meeting in tears as layoffs were being voted in.
“This situation is not easy for any of us,” said trustee Carolyn Brown. “We need support from the community and we need to come together as a whole.”
In October, the Stanislaus County Office of Education determined that the Denair Unified School District would not be able to meets its financial obligation for the current fiscal year. The county then employed a fiscal expert, Teresa Ryland, to review the district's budgetary situation.
Ryland found that DUSD’s cash balances are close to permanently disappearing. According to Ryland’s report, “the district has a dramatic, structural budget deficit that requires immediate action by the board and staff so that local control can be maintained.” The district is short about $350,000.
Planned student walk-out fizzles
In response to proposed immediate teacher lay-offs and budget cuts, parents of Denair High School students created a Facebook page to encourage students to walk out of their classes early Thursday morning.
The walk out never materialized; however, a few protestors planted themselves near the student drop-off point where local parents and children could read signs supporting a change in leadership as they entered and exited the facility.
According to one protestor and Denair High graduate Billy Myers, the walk out was hampered by students' fears of administrative punishment.
“There was going to be a walk out planned, but the school decided that if any students were absent, they were going to punish them with detention and an unexcused absence; so the students are staying in school,” he said.
Superintendent Parraz said that he knew about the planned walk out, but would not comment on what actions would have been taken on student participants. Parraz said he was outside the high school Thursday morning to ensure student safety.
“While the kids are here, they are on our watch, so we just wanted to make sure they are okay, cause it is right there with traffic and everything else. So anyway, it turned out that it didn’t happen,” Parraz said.
Parraz said he hoped that parents, teachers, and students upset about the recent revelations about the district's budget problems would not jump to negative conclusions about the school board’s decisions on Thursday night.
As part of the recovery plan, the school board is deciphering the best course of action to take for this year’s budget crisis, Parraz added.
“With the County Office of Education and the fiscal advisor that we have, we are putting together a recovery plan to just get the district back on a healthy budget. Again, we just don’t know all the final details. We just know right now we have to do something to work this out for this year, then our multi-year projection. We are doing everything we can to fix it,” Parraz stated.
— Journal reporter Brooke Borba contributed to this report.