The Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District held their monthly meeting by video conference Tuesday, April 21. The 55-minute meeting was streamed on their CRPUSDtv You Tube channel. The meeting had three interwoven themes: the pandemic, the budget and continued operation of business for the district.
The pandemic discussion showed up in several areas. These ranged from the impact on the budget going forward, to how to honor graduating students in some form, to how the district was handling the shift from on-site to online learning. It was not just about the current situation. It was also about what happens in the future with potential ongoing requirements for social distancing or additional shelter in place orders after the summer break. The superintendents of county school districts are already meeting to discuss these issues including possible hybrid models or staggered schedules among other potential actions.
On a positive note – the board passed a resolution of appreciation to recognize all employees of the district. According to Superintendent Watenpaugh, the entire team pulled together in a “Herculean” effort to make the transition to in home learning keeping the “best interest of the kids and families” in mind. Those efforts included the IT staff to set-up and facilitate on-line learning, the teachers to create online learning materials and teaching methods and the food service personnel preparing and handing out “Grab & Go” meals at three sites three days a week to keep the kids fed.
Going forward, the board approved by a 5-0 vote, three projects to prepare for next year. They were previously recommended by the facilities committee and are funded out of existing bond monies. They are a Multi-Use Building for Evergreen Elementary; a Security Camera Pilot Project for Rancho Cotate High School and a Technology Summer Refresh project. The refresh of technology refers to replacing 550 Chromebooks that are aging out, replacement of potentially 100 damaged or lost units during the current on-line education effort. The district currently has over 1,500 Chromebooks loaned out to support those efforts. 260 iPads to support Technology Middle School and various elementary schools are also included in this three-year purchase contract.
The budget picture is uncertain. Although the Sonoma County Office of Education did certify the district’s second interim budget report as positive, it was accompanied by a warning. In their approval letter they said “The level of deficit spending noted in the Multi-Year Projections is of concern to the county. The elimination of structural deficit is critical in order to maintain required reserve levels. The county encourages the district to explore cost-cutting measures that will help build the district's reserves to allow for long-term fiscal stability.”
The district was already under fiscal pressure with declining revenues and student enrollment. Given the fiscal impacts, still unknown, of the pandemic on loss of sales, payroll, property, income and other taxes for cities, counties and the state; all districts are going to be under more pressure. In addition, negotiations with the teacher’s union are currently underway. Their union representative made a plea at this meeting not to let the burden of deficit reduction again fall on the teachers. She said they have not had a cost of living pay raise in two years. Watenpaugh and staff are already working both on next years budget and with stakeholders on possible areas for budget reductions to ensure the district remains fiscally solvent. They are hoping for more clarity from the state sometime in May when the state provides revenue estimates to the districts.