School board considers budget use for next year

PHOTO: Despite state budget cuts, facilities development in the Davis Joint Unified School district will continue. The STEM building and Aquatic Center are funded by Measure M.

By Lauren Lee, Staff–

On May 21, the Davis Joint Unified School District Board of Education met over WebEx to discuss issues regarding distance learning and budget cut updates for the remainder of the school year and the 2020-21 school year. 

Rody Boonchouy, the Associate Superintendent of Instruction at DJUSD, spoke about implementing a Learning Management System. LMS is intended to consolidate all educational communication systems like Google Classroom or SchoolLoop so that distance learning is more efficient. 

District Administration asked teachers to complete a survey about three possible programs (Blackboard, Canvas and Schoology) the district could implement for distance learning next school year. The general consensus among the 69 percent of staff members who responded was that Canvas was the favored program between teachers in multiple grade levels and subjects. 

“We can kind of depend on the leniency right now because of the speed at which the change happened and those leniencies from the state, from higher education that are accepting pass/ no pass, we are not going to get that [same] leniency [in the fall],” Davis Teacher Association President Victor Lagunes said. 

There’s going to be a higher expectation from everyone from the students, parents, teachers and district administration. The focus is on improving distance learning which includes LMS which would create a more robust program to develop education. 

The district plans to reach out to all three companies to figure out what kind of deal they can get. Since all three of the systems cost money, it’s important to consider the budget. 

The District’s plan is that if distance learning has to continue in the fall they are going to improve it.

“Spring break in March was not an easy transition. If we set things up from the start so that the infrastructure is there, then we can say on a Friday we’re going back to working from home and on a Monday we can just start,” Pickett said. 

As for changes we are likely to see next year, one consistent message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state government and the county health officials, is the prohibition of large gatherings. According to Pickett, this could mean that even if sports resume the audience may have to watch from home and there won’t be packed classrooms at school. 

“Hopefully the things that will stay the same are students getting the educational content that they need and meeting grade-level standards and course content level. [..]That’s a top priority,” Pickett said 

The school board has a full schedule until the end of June. They will conduct a series of board meetings and special study sessions to look at the budget. The board is meeting and evaluating options as more information and guidance comes in from the county health department, the California Department of Education and the state government. 

The general budget for DJUSD is likely to see more major cuts than local project budgets like the Measure M facilities projects. Chief Business and Operations Officer Bruce Colby urges the public to attend the Board of Education’s budget study session on June 18 for more information. 

One of the specific topics mentioned was Measure M and the sale of bonds within the District. Measure M was passed in 2018 and dedicated around $150 million to “upgrade schools for safety and 21st-century learning” according to the DJUSD website description. 

“In terms of facilities and facilities funding we are in great shape there. Unfortunately, money from facilities can’t be spent for anything except facilities. So even though we are doing great with facilities and those projects will continue, we still have to do budget cuts in terms of the general funds because of the shortfall in funding from the state,” Pickett said.

General funds primarily go to teacher salaries. The general fund also pays for district staff members, librarians and grounds maintenance to name a few. The state projects a $54 billion deficit and expects that all public schools cut their budgets. 

However, there isn’t a final decision on the budget cuts so we don’t know exactly what part of the budget will be cut. There are protections for teachers like Measure G, a DJUSD parcel tax that raises salaries for teachers to the average of various local school districts and begins July 1, 2020. This measure was passed in March of this year. 

“Unfortunately, at the state level, budget cuts [need to] happen when you have to get to fiscal solvency and the one they look at is education […] It’s disheartening,” Lagunes said.

The DTA will be advocating for the teachers and staff so that they are safe and not in danger of losing members. The DTA has been in close collaboration with the district because of distance learning and will continue to work together. 

Breakfast and lunch programs will continue to be available throughout the remainder of the school year. 

Superintendent John Bowes mentioned that final budget information for the next school year won’t be available until later in the summer. The district already receives weekly and biweekly updates with the Yolo County Health Department and they are working to get information to families as early as possible while continuing to provide updates throughout June. 

It is still unknown how the school will look next year. At any notice, the number of COVID-19 cases could ramp up and the state could face an executive shelter in place order which would change the district’s plans.

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