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October 24, 2020
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School Board report – So it begins

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
August 21, 2020

On August 12, schools began in the Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District. Thus, this school board meeting of August 18 was the first of the 2020-2021 school year. It had a variety of new beginnings discussed over two hours. Some were routine in nature; others were not.

Reagan Schackleet-Mueller and Addison Pickrell began their terms as student board members. Schackleet-Mueller represents Rancho Cotate High School and Pickrell hails from Technology High School. They were welcomed by the board. Board President Leffler Brown administered their oaths of office which was followed by their first report to the board. Both focused on efforts of their schools to make sure online learning was effective and beneficial to their classmates. 

Emilie King followed them with her report. She is beginning her term as the new president of the Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association. In her report she outlined their goals for this school year. 

She also mentioned how great the collaboration with the district was in developing the memorandum of understanding (MOU) pertaining to the online learning changes in their contract. Additionally, acknowledging the looming fiscal dark clouds, she also made a plea that the district doesn’t forget that taking care of the teachers is important for taking care of the students. For context, labor negotiations for new contracts are underway. 

At the beginning of any new school year, certain routine items must be approved. These included items such as approving renewals of MOUs, agreements and Letters of Understanding. Such approvals allow services and relationships with vendors and partnerships from the previous year to continue. Under Educational Services, the annual proclamation declaring September as School Attendance Awareness Month was also adopted. In addition, renewed and new Educational Services Contracts for this school year were approved.

The budget picture remains bleak for the district. Because of the pandemic and state funding changes, the expected revenues are not keeping up with expected expenses. Chief Business Official Robert Marical again presented his normal monthly report snapshot. He said parcel tax receipts increased with new developments, as did development fees; but contributions from the Graton Casino did not occur and aren’t expected any time soon. 

Governor Newsom signed the 2020-21 Budget Act on June 29. Due to significant revisions in revenues and expenditures based on the funding made available by that act, a 45-day budget revision is required by law. Marical presented this revised budget plan. The district anticipates a deficit of almost $67,000 this school year, increasing to 1.7 million in 2021-22, and ballooning to over 3.4 million in 2022-23 if changes don’t occur. The district’s reserves can cover these deficits for the next two years but by year three they’ll be gone. So, the district is looking for increases in revenues and reductions in expenses this year and next, to avoid that scenario. The revised budget was accepted by the board.

The beginning effort to reduce expenses this year was Resolution 2021-4. It pertained to eliminating certain positions for this school year in classified staff. Eighteen positions were considered for reduction or elimination. Two are currently vacant. These included nine campus supervisors, two computer lab assistants and several library assistants at the Elementary/Middle School level. The rationale given was due to lack of work because of the shift to online learning not just lack of funds. Therefore, it was in the best interest of the district to discontinue or eliminate these positions. Doing so requires a sixty-day notice to employees, some of which have been with the district for over 30 years. If approved, these employees would be laid off until in-person instruction recommenced. Marical said $112,000 savings would be realized through December. If the entire school year, it would be $382,000. Laid off employees would be given rehire rights.

Passionate public comments, 21 in total, were read. All opposed the resolution. Especially the librarian cuts. The theme was clear. The teachers and kids need these resources and the familiar faces filling those positions even without in-person instruction. Find a way to let them contribute differently during online instruction but don’t let them go. The board agonized over this decision. Brown said this was “one of many decisions going forward that we’ll have to make.” He added “it’s inevitable some tough decisions” will have to be made. So, the public spoke. The board punted. The resolution was tabled for reconsideration until next month.