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Veteran board members talk budgets, school facilities

Dry Creek school board has three open seats, two registered candidates
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District knows all about the housing boom that took place in Roseville in the early 2000's. Builders filed for residential building permits like they were going out of style. Nine years ago, more than 1,700 permits were issued. But, two years ago, only 37 permits were issued. This slowed development has contributed to declining enrollment in the Dry Creek district. The district had 7,243 students last year and 7,115 pupils enrolled this year — more than projected — at its 10 elementary and middle schools. The district also suffers from budget concerns. Dry Creek’s school board has three open positions and only two candidates registered, leaving one seat available, which means an election won’t be held in November. Instead, the current board will appoint a qualified person to serve a four-year term. Applications were due Sept. 17 and the tentative date for that appointment is Tuesday, Oct. 12. The Press Tribune sat down with the two veteran school board members whose terms were set to expire later this year, but will now serve another four-year term, to get their take on their district. Diane Howe Age: 62 Occupation: Daycare provider Family: Husband Steve, two kids and four grandchildren Q: Tell me about your history with the board. A: I’ve been on the board since 1985 so that’s 25 years. The only school we had at that time was Dry Creek Elementary School. Both of my daughters (went) through that school. Q: Why do you want to serve another term? A: It’s a very tough time in education and there will be some really tough decisions, and having (my) background I felt was good for the district. Q: What is the most pressing issue facing the district? A: Undoubtedly, the budget. We noticed this was coming down the pipeline about three years ago and we started being as transparent as possible with our budget so people who were involved in negotiations, such as the unions and the leadership, recognized this was a serious problem. We’ve been extremely lucky that they’ve worked cooperatively and everyone seems to be on the same page — the teachers, the classified employees, the administration. I was so proud when our administrators took a freeze on their pay. It’s been a congenial time when everyone has pulled together. Q: Did your district lay off teachers last year? A: Yes, and the year before. It brings tears to my eyes every time I have to do that. It makes my stomach upset for days because these are high-qualified people who go above and beyond for our district and there’s nothing you can do about it. Luckily we’ve been able to hire back several teachers and some are on a long-term sub contract. There are still teachers we haven’t been able to reach this year and probably won’t be able to reach. Q: Why do you think people aren’t running for the board? A: It’s a vote of confidence in us. I also think people are scrambling in their own lives to stay secure. It takes time and commitment to be a good board member. You have to do your homework, you have meetings and people who want to talk to you. It’s important to let them talk. They may not like your answer (but) you have to listen. Q: What has changed in the district through the years? A: We had red at the bottom of our budget when I began on the board. It was like a Déjà vu that we’re going back to red. I worked for many years to save reserves for the district, which is actually helping us now. When I began, there were 220 students in the district. There are now about 7,200. We had one small school. We now have 10 schools. There were probably no non-English speakers in the district when I started. Now this district is culturally diverse. Q: What do you hope for the future of your district? A: More money. I would hope for us to never be satisfied with ourselves, to always set the bar just a tiny bit higher and make our students the best they can because that’s what they deserve — opportunity. Tracy Pittman Age: 56 Occupation: Stay-at-home mom Family: Husband John and three kids Q: Tell me about your history with the district. A: We moved here in 1987. My oldest daughter was 5 and getting ready to start kindergarten. She came home one day and checked out the book “You Will Go to the Moon” from the library. I flipped it open and the copyright date is something like 1957. That bothered me. I thought, “What kind of a library do they have that the best book my daughter could come up with is one that was so old?” I wanted to get involved. I became an officer in the PTA, served on the site council and coordinated the art docent program at Heritage Oak Elementary School. I was appointed to the school board in June of 1994. Q: Why do you want to serve another term? A: There’s work that still needs to be done and it’s work I find fascinating. Q: What are the most important issues facing the district? A: Fiscal stability is a problem. Improving academic performance is always our No. 1 focus. It’s much more focused now because we have relatively good test scores so we’re really starting to dial down and look at how our subgroups are doing. How are our English learners doing? How are our ethnic minority groups doing? What do we see as gaps and how do we fix those? Q: What’s changed in the district since you’ve been on the board? A: As the community has grown, we’ve had to find ways to stay connected to people and make sure they get the information they need. Some of (our) communication pieces — the newsletter, the website — we (want) people to know what’s going on. We have really great schools. The community has been supportive of the district in allowing us to do that. I don’t think we’ve built what people would describe as Taj Mahals. I certainly hope not. But they’ve been designed very purposefully as a tool for the staff to use in doing their job. Once the school is built, we go through a post-occupancy evaluation to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s contributed to some really nice facilities. Q: Are there plans for more schools in the near future? A: There are two sets of plans. One is for a new elementary school and we own the site for that in Morgan Creek. The other plan is to redo Dry Creek Elementary School. Q: What do you hope for the future of your district? A: I would like us to expand our visual and performance arts programs. Our staff does an awesome job of doing as much as they can but, unfortunately, it’s not considered a basic necessity. I think it should be because it’s what makes school fun. Data supports the idea that kids who are involved with things like music do better academically. Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.