These concerns and questions are understandable. What does lay ahead for Sierra Unified, and what, if anything, is being done to bring about stability? Let me share some specifics:
1. We are taking steps to turn the tide on inter-district transfers. The same law that allows students to gain residency in the district where their parents are employed, contains a provision that caps the number leaving for work-based residency at 3%. For a district our size that means 39 students. The law also specifies that these transfers be coordinated with the sending district, which has not been the practice of our neighbors. Over the summer, we successfully put a stop to neighboring districts accepting students based on location of parent employment without the permission of SUSD. New, more restrictive Board Policy governing inter-district transfers is now in place and we have entered into formal, legally-driven agreements with our neighbors stating that the concept of open enrollment will no longer be accepted in practice or policy. The steps taken over the summer have resulted in returning $70,000 in revenue for the current year alone and are projected to return more than $500,000 in the first five years of this new policy implementation.
2. We are pursuing the lease and/or sale of surplus property owned by the district. At the end of June 2012, the Foothill Conservancy took occupancy granted by lease of the vacated district office. A lease agreement for a 13-acre parcel of land near Foothill Elementary is underway, and should be finalized within the next month. Negotiations are in process for the sale of the school buildings at Balch Camp. The Governing Board agreed to implement the steps required to sell 20 acres of vacant land near Highway 168 and Old Millerton Road.
3. All SUSD employees, including teachers, support personnel, and management have agreed to a reduction in pay of 8.7%, through a combination of salary concessions and furlough days. This yields an annual savings of more than $800,000 to SUSD. These concessions made by employees, more than any other single move, will ensure that SUSD will see a strong future under local control.
I have every confidence that at some point the economy will grow strong enough to allow the district to improve funding for programs and upgrade facilities. I also believe that we will see an end to the declining enrollment. Our entering kindergarten class is larger than last year’s by 21 students, and last year’s was larger than the class before. Keeping programs for students, and ensuring that our academics are strong and well-staffed, will result in getting to a growth cycle, more quickly. We also have plans for continuing to improve on school and bus safety. We are committed to serving our students and this community.
In the days and weeks following the failure of Measure O, many community members indicated a desire to help. A local non-profit, The Sierra Foundation, joined in. I would like to encourage you to participate in this local, grass-roots effort. The enclosed brochure provides you with a safe and secure way to do that. If you’d like to contribute to paying off the facilities debt, you may do so. You can also choose to contribute to a specific program, helping to ensure its strength over these final five years of paying off the facilities debt. All funds will be collected and distributed by the Sierra Foundation. As a 501(3)c, they are held to the strictest standards of transparency and fiscal accountability. Your donation will also be tax deductible!
So many of us believe in the unique educational opportunities provided by the schools in SUSD; please join us in taking steps to turn that belief into action.
Sierra Unified School District