comments

Eureka district moving in ‘great direction’

Board changes reserve policy, sets district goals
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
-A +A

The Eureka Union School District went through three interim superintendents in about a year and a half, losing one to retirement and another to a health issue.

Eureka's board of trustees hired a permanent superintendent to start in July - their last one was Tim McCarty who resigned in February 2011 - and many people consider this another sign of progress and stability in the district that serves seven schools in Granite Bay and east Roseville.

The board has also recently set district goals, approved a memorandum of understanding with the teachers union and reformed some policies. The selection of Superintendent Linda Rooney was unanimous.

"It's a dream come true that I get to be here," Rooney said. "This is a high-performing district and the challenge in high-performing districts is to maintain it."

Board member Ryan Jones said he's impressed with Rooney.

"She's dynamite," Jones said. "She brings that creativity and innovation that I like. I think we're on a good path. We needed solid leadership in that position."

Michelle Raley, president of the Eureka Union Teachers Association, said she's glad a permanent superintendent is in place. Other recent changes have also improved the once-fragile relationship among teachers, administrators and board trustees.

"The teachers thank the board members for the direction we're going in," Raley said. "We have better communication and are being included in the conversation. That's a big change from the past."

Teachers union agrees to concessions

On Sept. 11, the board approved a set of district goals and priorities to ensure administrators, teachers, parents and students are on the same page.

"We're trying hard to do everything in one strategic direction," Rooney said.

Jerri Davis, a board member since 2005, pointed out that the goals represent a movement four years in the making, when the district first established a visioning task force and designed a set of pathways for achieving the vision.

"I believe the district is headed in a great direction under the leadership of our new superintendent," Davis said, adding, "The consistent challenge in our district will be to continue to provide the exceptional education program our children deserve within the tight fiscal environment we continue to face."

During September's meeting, the board also approved a memorandum of understanding with the teachers union, which calls for employee concessions.

"It's a bittersweet-type of event," said board President Kristie Greiss. "I give tremendous kudos to their organization."

The district identified more than $1.3 million in cuts for this academic year. Should Eureka lose additional funding from the state with the failure of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, the MOU will go into effect next year.

"The level of concession will depend on the overall loss of revenue, up to a maximum of 6 percent of compensation," explained Human Services Director Dr. Clark Burke, in a press release. "The district will resolve its structural deficit separately and the MOU formula will take no more and no less than what is (the union's) fair share of the loss due to the change in our received revenue from the state."

Raley said the district spends $414 over the state's per-student spending and the concession agreement demonstrates that teachers want to maintain that funding level because this investment in students has led to a record number of students transferring into Eureka, which has stopped the trend of declining enrollment.

"The teachers recognized a potential drastic cut in funds," Raley said. "And if that cut happens and our district is not able to fill in the gaps with reserves and restricted funds, our teachers are willing to do their fair share to maintain programs and support our staff."

Another board action prompted teachers to approve possible concessions: The district put $2.8 million of board-restricted money back into its general fund reserve.

Reserves policy changed

After joining the board in 2010, Eric Bose saw a district that "struggled from a lack of transparent and responsive leadership." But improvements are underway, he said.

"I think we've made significant strides to increase transparency, accountability and 'responsiveness to all families and constituents in our district," Bose said. "We've simplified our fiscal management and accounting, revised our reserve policy to prevent wasteful spending yet maintain sufficient reserves to avoid outside borrowing. We've increased oversight on all district expenditures and contracting and increased competitive bidding."

Increasing transparency was a key reason Andrew Sheehy ran in the November 2010 election.

"I ran because I believe the way a government agency operates is just as important as its outcomes," he said.

In February 2010, the board admitted to violating the Brown Act when it voted in closed session to increase former Superintendent McCarty's salary by 8 percent in 2008. The violation became known when McCarty's personnel file was stolen from the district office and mailed to employees.

Another issue of concern for Sheehy: the general fund reserve. When he took office, the reserve amount was about three times the board policy of keeping it at 12 percent. This didn't account for other funds restricted by the board, which amounted to roughly another 10 percent or $2.8 million, he said. Keeping the reserve at a threshold of 12 percent is four times the state minimum, Sheehy said.

"I could not stand by and watch a multitude of cuts that affect our kids directly in the classroom, while we were sitting on so much tax dollars that were not being utilized," Sheehy said.

The board has since modified its reserve policy and is spending it down while "still having an ample 'rainy day fund' to keep the district fiscally strong," he said.

The new policy is to have a sufficient amount of funds in reserve to satisfy state laws and cover the district's cash flow needs throughout the school year without borrowing funds from outside the district, Sheehy said.

The board also addressed the way the district administers the collective bidding process. The law allows for a district to use a closed bidding process for any job less than $200,000, which means the district only has to notify a small list of pre-approved companies about a project, Sheehy said.

The board voted to amend the policy to use an open competitive bidding process on contracts less than $200,000.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

----------

Eureka Union School District goals and board priorities

  1. The board will support the work of all Professional Learning Communities and their strategic focus on quality instruction, intervention, enrichment and research-based, high quality professional development.
  2. The board will prioritize and support consistent assessments of student proficiency on Challenge 21 skills as measured by standardized rubrics for each grade level.
  3. Partnerships with all students, families and educators will continue to be nurtured, encouraged and supported to ensure the district serves the community with creativity, celebrated innovation and distinction.
  4. The EUSD Vision and Pathways remains a focus, including development of the Common Core State Standards, Project Lead the Way and 21st Century skills development supported by an enriched daily educational experience.

 Source: Eureka Union School District