The Denair Unified School District Board of Trustees unveiled a plan meant to provide a “bold, new future” for its schools Thursday night, calling for a new charter covering all grade levels and a parcel tax ballot measure for district voters.
Board President Ray Prock Jr. read from a statement at the meeting, making a case for the plan which will both address the district’s chronic enrollment challenges and provide a reliable source of funding to provide better pay for teachers.
A new charter covering all grade levels would create “a seamless academic progression” from kindergarten through high school, said Prock, and if voters in November pass a proposed parcel tax of up to $100 annually, the money will be used to compensate district employees – teachers, aides, specialists, campus supervisors, maintenance staff and others – at a level that is “fair and competitive in the market.”
Prock spoke about the adversity DUSD has overcome in recent years when making a case for the new charter and proposed tax. The financial crisis driven by the Great Recession reduced state funding, forcing the district to cut salaries for all employees by up to 11 percent. While pay raises over the past two years have restored some of employees’ pay, the parcel tax would help close that gap.
The parcel tax would amount to about $8 a month, said Prock, and would require a two-thirds majority “yes” vote for approval. To collaborate on the district’s new direction, the board will first send out community surveys via telephone beginning late next week, and will then host community-wide meetings consisting of focus groups that give residents the opportunity to participate and make their voices heard.
“For that reason, it is critical that the district provides its community stakeholders with all the relevant information for them to make an informed decision,” said Prock. “Our goal, through these community interactions, is to identify practical steps that will stabilize enrollment trends and lead to enrollment growth at the middle school and high school.”
“At first it will be big, blue sky meetings where we can just get together and talk in big, broad brush strokes,” said DUSD Superintendent Aaron Rosander. “Then as we move out of this year and into the next, the meetings will become more finely-detailed. It’s a chance for people to really get a good voice in there on what our schools look like.”
Prock pointed out that despite Denair Elementary Charter Academy increasing enrollment over the years, the campus’ growth has been offset by declining enrollment at the district’s middle and high schools. DUSD enrollment currently sits at 1,272 students – 38 fewer than the district anticipated in its 2017-2018 budget, which translates to roughly $300,000 less state revenue.
The solution to decreasing enrollment may be the establishment of a new charter school structure that encompasses multiple campuses, from kindergarten to high school. DECA has sustained ample enrollment, and now has 557 students. Both the middle and high schools have seen enrollment trend downward since 2012.
The charter proposal described by Prock on Thursday night aims to build upon the district’s strengths, which include strong academic, language and arts elements at DECA, a college-going culture on all campuses and Career Technical Education Pathways in agriculture and criminal justice at Denair High.
A new charter, Prock said, “would integrate pathways such as world languages and agriculture at every grade level” and allow students to receive “hands-on instruction from our staff, in-the-field experience and access to instructional materials and lessons via computer.”
Through a new charter system and the proposed parcel tax, Prock hopes that enrollment within the district can be stabilized, and that the best teachers and staff can be recruited to work within DUSD.
“Together, we can assure a bright suture for Denair schools,” said Prock. “We respectfully ask our staff, our students and their parents, and our community to work with us to make them happen.”