The school board met online October 20. The ninety-minute meeting predominately centered on budget and distance learning issues. As evidenced by the public comments at the beginning of the meeting, parents are increasingly concerned by the duration of online efforts and frustrated that the conversation hasn’t progressed to when school will reopen either in a hybrid or in-person classroom model. Of the ten comments received, one was firm that reopening schools shouldn’t be done at this time. Seven expressed concerns about distance learning in one form or another. Two were related to other concerns.
The mood of the board was somber. Normally they don’t directly respond to public comments. However, it was obvious they heard those comments. Emilie King, the president of the Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association, stressed during her report, that they too were eager for the schools to reopen but “only when safe to do so.” During board member reports at the end of the meeting, Trustee Joe Cimino empathized with parents struggling to help their children. He has two children who are also experiencing frustration, a drop off in normal achievement and behavior because of the shelter-in-place and required online classes. Trustee Chrissa Gillies, a long-standing proponent of not having in person instruction until it’s safe to do so, said we have “got to stay the course.” Trustee Jennifer Wiltermood urged the district and the board to have more “communications and conversations” concerning the plans of the district for when the County’s Health Officer Dr. Mase allows schools to again reopen for in person instruction. Board President Leffler Brown acknowledged these were difficult, unprecedented times and everyone is doing the best they can.
Until then, the district is doing what they can to improve the learning experiences for the kids. For example, the board approved the purchase of 50 Apple MacBook Pro laptops and associated accessories at a cost of $102,533.13 for teachers. The purchase is being made using Federal Cares Act funds. These are replacements for older computers that are experiencing hardware failures and other issues requiring repairs and constant maintenance. Distance Learning has accelerated the need to replace them with more modern and capable devices.
The district also ratified a one-year contract with Comcast that will provide up to 25 qualified families internet service to support distance learning. Most families can connect, many using the Wi-Fi hotspots previously provided by the district. For those that can’t, this is a viable option for families in need with problems connecting to the internet for online instruction. To be eligible, the family must have qualified for free or reduced lunches in the district and are not currently a Comcast subscriber. Another example, they contracted with Maria Freebairn-Smith of the Restorative Practice Support for Families. She will provide six online support webinars during the months of October and November. These are designed to help staff and families cope with the increased stresses of distance learning.
In budget news, the district received a letter from the Sonoma County Office of Education that approved the district’s adopted budget and 45-day revision for the 2020-21 school year. However, the office “remains concerned about on-going deficit spending.” They urged “the district to review and monitor revenues, expenditures and fund balances of all funds.” The district is doing that. Dr. Mayra Perez, Superintendent and Chief Business Official Robert Marical have set up a “Budget Advisory Committee. They’ve held two meetings so far this month. According to their October 15 presentation to the committee the purpose of the committee is “To examine the CRPUSD budget, prioritize areas to maintain, and develop recommendations to increase revenues or reduce expenditures in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscal year.”
In other board news, the board accepted a $20,000 donation from the Education Foundation of Cotati and Rohnert Park, approved a “Career Technical Education Advisory Committee,” and approved a renewal of Credo High School’s charter for five years. They also approved the Rancho Cotate High School ASB request for a fundraiser. This was required so that the ASB can donate 10 percent of the proceeds to the Sutter Women’s Health in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Finally, they passed two resolutions. They passed Resolution 2021-7 on a vote of 5-0. It concerns the granting or denying of an InterDistrict Transfer Request based on classroom capacity limits. Resolution 2021-8 in Support of Prop 15 was passed on a 4-1 vote with Wiltermood voting against.