School board, teachers union disagree over district’s financials

MARTINEZ, Calif. ­­– How Martinez Unified School District receives and spends its money took center stage Monday night, not just during the regular meeting, when the past year’s actuals were presented, but also during a lengthy public comment portion prior to a closed session that let the Board meet with labor negotiators.

During the prelude to the closed session, which is permitted under California’s Brown Act that governs public access to government meetings, members and supporters of the Martinez Education Association filled the District’s board room to urge the District to settle with the teacher’s union and provide instructors with a contract.

MEA Vice President Marilyn Brouette handed Board President Jonathan Wright a printed copy of an online petition that supported the teachers’ side, and said more than a thousand people had signed it.

One woman said the resource teacher who has helped her son deal with dyslexia isn’t returning. “How is this fair to my son?” she asked. “I hope a strike isn’t necessary.”

Teachers said they gave concessions to the District 10 years ago during tougher economic times, and had expected better financial conditions would benefit them.

MEA President Brenda Navarro and a 31-year veteran of teaching, said teachers were “on the precipice of a strike.”

She said educators had filled the room “to show solidarity” with Martinez teachers. She said the actuals supported the union’s contention that the District had money, including 19 percent in reserves and more than $2 million in special reserves, it could use on teacher salaries, which she said are lower than neighboring districts. She accused the District of misleading the public.

Navarro said teachers had received no pay increases last year, and said the District instead hires independent contractors at costs of “hundreds of millions” more than employees they replace.

Others said the District now had excessive reserves it could spend instead on teachers.

Felix Sanchez said the District isn’t spending money on students or teachers, and warned that bullying and use of racial epithets happen on local campuses.

But Assistant Superintendent Helen Rossi said she found no such 19 percent reserves after she gave the Board a lengthy explanation of the District’s income and expenditures. Nor is there an entry for a “special” reserve, although the budget report shows a Restricted Reserve for money that must be spent only on expenses as defined by state law.

That report showed the District continued operating with a structural budget deficit despite cost-cutting measures taken in the past fiscal year.

The District, as must others in the state, is required to prepare a year-end financial statement by June 30, even though not all accounts are closed by that date. A subsequent look at the District’s finances is compiled later and compares the actual revenues and expenditures to the mandated June budget report. That’s the report Rossi gave Monday night during the regular meeting.

Navarro continued her critique of District spending, questioning the money spent on consultants that she said could go to employees, the thousands spent on licensing and a $125,000 entry for conferences. “There’s a lot of fat in the budget,” she said. “We want teachers prioritized.”

“Let’s take a step back,” Boardmember John Fuller urged after a presentation of the 2017-18 unedited financial actuals. He told Rossi that some words he heard Monday – “con,” “hustle” and “side-step,” were undeserved. “You did fine,” he said.

He said 87 cents of every District dollar goes to salaries, and spending had been cut “to give us breathing room, to see what could be done.” He said he hoped “at one point, we can sit down, work and listen,” with each side believing in the good will of the other.

In some cases, the District was working with “bad data,” he said, and that going forward, he expected District staff would be able to seek out more accurate information in making estimates. “I hope people understand this was a difficult year. We had our compass on the wrong north.” Fuller said going forward, the District should strive on using “true north” – more precise numbers – in its calculations.

On the revenue side, the estimated money from California’s Local Control Funding Formula was $34,498,098.42, but the unaudited actuals was $39,239.45 lower. Federal money had been estimated at $1,496,050.66, but came in at $1,328,389.42. But other state money, estimated at $3,541,654.35 actually came in at $4,432,011.86. Local sources were estimated at $3,027,758.44, but were lower in the actual, at $2,883,575.09.

The total estimate had been $42,563,561.87, but the unaudited actual was $43,102,835.33, an increase of $539,273.46.

Certificated and classified salaries and benefits accounted for much of the expenditures. Teacher salaries had been expected to be $19,803,149.18 but actually were slightly less, at $19,289,399.11. Classified salaries, estimated at $5,195,649.19, actually were $5,339,252.93. Employee benefits, estimated at $11,565,215.46 actually came in at $11,338,656.96, for a total of nearly $36 million of the approximate $43 million spent on employees.

The District was successful in trimming in other spending areas, especially in books and supplies, certain services and operating expenses and capital outlay. Total expenditures, which had been estimated at $45,749,586.56, actually came in at $43,595,052.61.

Despite those cutbacks, the income of $43,102,835.33 fell short of the $43,595,052.61 in actual expenditures.

Still, the picture could have been worse. The District had estimated a deficit of more than $3 million, and instead had a deficiency of $492,217.28, the report said. Its mandated reserves, which are required to remain at no less than 3 percent, was $1,307,851.58 instead of the predicted $1,377,588.

The ending balance, estimated at $4,923,828.04, actually was $7,529,435.45, and the final ending balance, estimated at $2,173,752.44 actually ended up being $4,982,897.37, the report said.

Among other District funds, Adult Education ended with $1,212,727.12; the cafeteria fund finished with $53.61; deferred maintenance finished with $26,433.26; the special reserve for post employment, such are retirements, ended with $656,305.

The bond-issue building fund has $34,926,972.48; capital facilities fund now has $806,788.83; the facilities fund has $6,420,282.29; the special reserve that can only be spent on capital outlay has $2,057,555,48; and the fund for bond interest and redemption finished with $6,655,298.60.

The Board unanimously approved Rossi’s report.

Director of Student Services Janelle Eyet told the Board enrollment for the current year is continuing the plateau from last year.

The District has 1,829 elementary school students this year, five fewer than last year. Martinez Junior High School has 952 students, fewer than the 1,010 attending at the end of the last school year.

Alhambra High School has an increase in numbers from June, when it had 1,154 enrolled. Now it has 1,226. Vicente High School enrollment increased by 2 to 79, and Briones Independent School has 57 students, one more than it had in June.

District Superintendent C.J. Cammack described one school safety program, named for Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza, 20, entered Dec. 14, 2012, and fatally shot 20 pupils 6 and 7 years old, and 6 adult employees before committing suicide as first responders arrived.

The program, based in Newtown, is designed to protect children from gun violence, whether from crime, suicide, accidental discharge or other occurrences.

it trains volunteers to educate others about preventing gun violence. Its mental health and wellness program strives to help at-risk individuals and ensure that firearms are kept safe and secure. The organization also advocates for passage of mental health, wellness and gun safety laws.

The Board may consider a resolution instituting the program at the local District with cooperation fo Contra Costa County Office of Education so it could be put in place at no cost.

In addition, the Board heard about another approach to student and school safety, Feet First.

An outgrowth of a Martinez gym, Fight Kore, operated by Sean Sharkey, this program uses principles of boxing to help at-risk children, whether they are being bullied or are students with behavioral, substance abuse or other problems.

A parent who began studying at Fight Kore, Dan Dorsett, saw the possibilities of developing a program that would let students gain confidence, reduce anxiety and virtually eliminate thoughts of suicide. As part of Vicente High School’s mental health approaches, Feet First launched a program at that school last year, Dorsett said.

This year, Feet First also has started a program at John Muir Elementary School, and will ask the Board to endorse not only keeping those programs in place but expanding them into other schools.

In other matters, the Board declined to attend the California School Boards Association conference in San Francisco, and moved a meeting date from Nov. 12, Veterans Day, to Nov. 13.

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