The Denair Unified School District budget has risen about $6.5 million in just three years, but don’t be fooled. Most of the increase can be attributed to two things – special funding from the state and federal governments related to COVID-19 and generous cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) from the state to make up for money shorted to school districts in pre-pandemic years.
Denair trustees unanimously approved a $21 million budget for the 2022-23 school year at a special meeting Thursday night, an increase of nearly $3 million from last year’s $18.2 million spending plan. The district is carrying over about $2 million in so-called COVID relief funds into the new budget year that can be spent on items such as textbooks, school supplies and technology upgrades.
“It’s a heathy budget, but we’re going to continue to be fiscally conservative,” said Superintendent Terry Metzger.
The 2022-23 budget reflects a second consecutive year of higher-than-average COLAs from California. Last year’s was 5.07% and this year’s is pegged at 5.33%. Some of that reflects the state trying to “catch up” on money it withheld from K-12 schools during leaner economic times; some of it is directly related to the current inflationary pressures that have impacted public agencies, private businesses and individuals across the country.
Still, much of the state funding remains tied directly to daily attendance. Denair, which saw enrollment dip slightly during the pandemic, expects to have 62 students more in the 2022-23 school year. Total enrollment is projected at 1,310.
As with previous budgets, most of the money – $15.4 million in 2022-23 -- will go to pay for employee salaries. That includes across-the-board 4% salary increases Denair board members approved for teachers, administrators and all other staff on Thursday night. It also reflects the continued spike in pension contributions the district is legally required to make – 19.10% to the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) and 25.37% to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), which represents the non-teaching staff.
Daisy Swearingen, Denair’s director of fiscal services, projects the district will finish the year with a fund balance of $2,590,332. That’s more than $1 million more than the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. In another sign of its fiscal health, the district also projects it will have at least a 4% reserve fund for at least the next three years.
Earlier in the meeting, trustees approved two new programs aimed at better preparing students academically.
The first is called the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (ELOP). It is a before- and after-school program in which students at all grade levels will receive additional instruction, tutoring and enrichment. When the new school year begins, ELOP will run from 7:30 to 8:25 a.m. and from the end of school (between 2:45 and 3 p.m., depending on the campus) until 4:30 p.m.
Metzger emphasized that ELOP is separate from the district’s childcare program, which runs until 6 p.m., though some students may participate in both.
There is no bus service associated with ELOP, so parents are responsible for getting their children to and from school each day if they elect to participate in ELOP. ELOP signups will begin the week before classes start in August.
The second new program approved by board members Thursday night is Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) at Denair Elementary Charter Academy and Denair Charter Academy. Pre-kindergarten is for students whose fifth birthdays fall from September to early December, making them too young to begin kindergarten in August. Pre-kindergarten is an alternative to state-sponsored pre-school.
Under the new UPK guidelines, the age range for those eligible for the program will be extended by three months in each of the next three years. For instance, students whose fourth birthdays occur from September through February can participate this year. Next year, UPK will add those who turn 4 by the end of May and the following year students whose fourth birthdays are in June, July and August will be added.
Last year, there was one pre-kindergarten class at DECA. This year, Metzger expects there to be two to accommodate an additional 20 or so students.
In other action Thursday night, trustees:
Approved an update to the 2021-24 Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), a strategic document that lays out for parents and the community how the district will spend the millions of dollars it receives each year from the state. Metzger said the district’s vision is to “empower tomorrow’s leaders through exemplary instruction and powerful innovative programs.” The LCAP includes three goals. The first is to provide all students with a foundation for post-secondary success. That means preparing high school graduates to enter a two- or four-year college, or having the skills to go directly to the military, a trade school or another kind of vocational field in order to begin their professional careers. The second goal is to have 80% of students demonstrate literacy (reading, writing and speaking) in all content areas by the end of the 2023-24 school year. And the third goal is to maintain a positive and safe school climate where all students are successful.
Said goodbye to and congratulated Linda Covello, the district’s chief business official for the past eight years. Covello was a key figure – along with board members, administrators, and state and county officials – in helping the district overcome a financial crisis that could have led to state takeover in 2014 and 2015. “Thank you for your service,” Metzger told Covello, who is moving out of the area with her husband. “While the last eight years have provided many challenges and successes here in Denair, I truly believe we have made a difference in the lives of students and staff alike and I know you all will continue to do so far into the future,” Covello said.