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Denair Unified proposed budget includes pay hikes, investments in tech
Low enrollment still an issue for multiple campuses
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Denair Unified School District trustees signaled support Thursday night for a 2016-17 budget that includes small salary increases for all employees and one-time investments in technology and academic programs.


The proposed budget envisions spending $13.5 million in the next school year as compared to about $13.3 million in 2015-16. The difference, explained Chief Business Officer Linda Covello, mostly is due to the one percent pay raises previously approved for all employees, plus state-mandated additional contributions to their retirement funds.


The one percent pay increase comes as an effort to restore the eight percent pay cut DUSD employees were dealt in 2013 when employee salaries were reduced in order to bring the district’s expenses and revenue into alignment. Thanks to the prolonged effects of the recession and declining enrollment, the district was pushed into a financial crisis and required a short-term loan from the Stanislaus County Office of Education and intervention by the state.


Although DUSD escaped those tough times, enrollment is still on the decline, resulting in a lean 2016-17 budget. Enrollment at Denair Elementary Charter Academy and Denair Charter Academy has grown in the past three years, but not enough to offset losses at the other campuses.


Enrollment provides the biggest chunk of income for any district in California, with the state paying about $8,000 per student per year based on what is known as Average Daily Attendance. In the past five years, DUSD’s ADA has fallen from 1,535 students to 1,275. Covello projects Denair to have 1,228 students next year – about a two percent drop from 2015-16. The 2015-16 school year also saw a two percent drop in enrollment from the previous year, and most of the decline continues to be at the middle and high school campuses.


Along with the employee salary increase, the proposed budget also allows for improvements in the district’s Spanish curriculum as well as upgrades to technology in the classrooms.


Two teaching positions will be added at Denair Elementary Charter Academy in order to expand the dual-immersion Spanish language program to the first grade, and extra money received from the state over the past few years will be used to buy new 31 new computers for the Denair High School lab as well as innovative Spanish programs for all campuses. A new math curriculum will also be developed for the elementary campus.


Covello said committees composed of staff members are in the process of identifying additional needs across the district. Because the money comes from one-time reimbursements from the state, Covello said it is best invested in equipment, programs or maintenance upgrades that are not ongoing and do not need to be funded each year.


Like many districts in the Central Valley, Denair also receives additional state funding based on how many qualified low-income, English-learner and foster youth students it enrolls. Students can qualify in only one category.


Covello said the budget forecasts an ending balance of $3.3 million, which includes about $600,000 in restricted funds that only can be spent on one-time projects.