Distrust of Board

05/24/2012

 
Q:  Why should we give money to a board that has not shown fiscal responsibility?  Didn't they create this mess?
A:  First, every board member has been newly seated in the last four years.  One member, Norm Saude,  has been on the board before, but was absent for several years before returning as a newly-elected member.  None of the sitting board was on the board when the initial decisions were made regarding construction or financing of the Foothill campus.  This board, since 2008, has cut 29% of the district's annual operating budget to adjust to funding shortages from the state.  We have every indication that they will continue to do what is necessary to maintain the required reserves and continue the mission.  They have already cut their own benefits to a small, monthly stipend of $240. 
 
 
Q:  I heard Big Creek and Pine Ridge were only included to lower the cost to all voters.  They don't have many kids and they only attend 9-12 anyway.  Is this really fair?
A:  Of all the possible solutions, it is the most fair choice to included Big Creek and Pine Ridge in the vote.  Their K-8 schools do a wonderful job, but those students all flow into Sierra High School.  The outcome of this vote will significantly impact what happens at Sierra High in the next 10 years.  Those district representatives have expressed concern from their communities on the availability of transportation and programs for their high schoolers.  The most reasonable option is to include these communities in the vote, as well as the outcome.
 

High Teacher Pay

05/16/2012

 
Q:  I heard our teachers earn some of the highest pay in the valley.  Why don't we start by cutting their pay?
A:  Years ago, Sierra teachers were on the top end of the pay scale, but no longer.  Now, according to our local CTA rep, Sierra falls in the middle of the pack, at 15th in the valley.  Also, Sierra ranks last in the valley in contributions to health benefits.  Sierra teachers have not received a raise since 2007, and have taken 3 unpaid furlough days for the past 3 years, which is essentially a 2% pay cut. 
 
 
Q:  I hear that money from the bond will go to fund pension plans, instead of actually benefiting children.  Is this true?
A:  Pension costs do come out of the general fund, but this is a fixed obligation, and payments will not change with passage or failure of Measure O.  What will vary is how many personnel are on staff, which in turn affects the services the students receive.  A portion of personnel costs are pensions, but the real issue should be whether it is an unreasonable amount.  According to the district, pension costs are 8.7% of overall personnel costs. 
 

Clovis Takeover

05/05/2012

 
Q:  I keep hearing that Clovis will take over our schools.  Is this true?
A:  No, this is not a likely scenario.  Neither Clovis, nor any other neigboring district,  has any incentive to take on Sierra Unified's large geographical area (especially in an era of transportation cuts), unfunded facility debt, and aging infrastructure.  The projected scenario is that the local board will make whatever cuts are needed to balance the budget.  Without relief of the facility debt, these cuts will increase class size, and eliminate programs which causes people to take their children to other districts, if they can.  This then feeds the cycle of declining enrollment, which further decreases our own economy of scale.  The logical end of this path is a bare-bones school system populated by a small remainder of students. 
 

Closing schools

05/05/2012

 
Q:  I'm hearing that the schools will CLOSE if the bond doesn't pass.  Is this true?
A:  No, given everything we know, there are no more school closures planned for our district.  Proposed cuts for three scenarios (continuing with current COP, re-financing, and passing a bond) are shown under the "files you want " tab.  
 
 
Q:  All California schools are having the same funding problems.  What makes you so different?
A:  Two things make Sierra Unified different from most other districts: 
   1)  Sierra is a small, rural district covering a large geographical area--translates to large transportation costs
   2)  Sierra has been paying on a large facility debt from its general fund.  Normally, construction is funded through a bond.  When you look at the total cost, including interest on the loan, eighty percent of the construction costs have been made "out of hide".  This bond would cover the remaining 20%.
 
 
Q:   So, if the COP loan of $5.2 million will be paid off in 2017 why the need for Measure "O"?   
A:  Sierra Unified, along with all other CA schools, have been receiving less than Prop 98 guaranteed funding for 4 years now.  Since 2008, SUSD has lost $8.4M.  The district has made some severe cuts to adjust to this situation.  They went from four schools to two, and cut 24% of their employees, while still trying to protect the education and programs that keep children excited and motivated.  However, heading into next year, more cuts are coming from Sacramento.  Right now, cuts are proposed for transportation, which would be extremely harmful for all small, rural districts like ours.  Whether those cuts materialize in the form of transportation cuts or some other form, more cuts ARE coming.    So the question is...what does our district cut next?  They have proposed several scenarios to give us a feel for what the next few years would look like if they continue "as is" (shown as "COP"), refinance for lower payments, or pass a bond.  I'll attach that slide for your review.  Our position is that we need to take that facility payment OUT of the general fund, and keep those funds focused on instruction and programs, as they should be.  Refinancing for lower payments continues the same practice, and continues to erode funds meant for instruction.  And frankly, it doesn't go far enough.    The bottom line is that to finish out the loan "as is" would cut programs and instruction to unacceptable levels.  This course penalizes kids in the system right now.  This will also feed into the cycle of declining enrollment because more children will go "down the hill" for access to sports, music, drama, ag, AP classes, and more.    We have a chance here to "right the ship", and move forward, and we believe it is the most responsible thing to do.
 
 
Q:  Four years ago, Big Creek and Pine Ridge were included in the bond proposal, two years ago they not included, and now they are included on this proposal.  Why the inconsistancy?  Why should they pay off the Foothill campus loan when they have their own K-8 schools?
A:  Good question!  The difference between these bond proposals was what the funds would be used to support.  Pine Ridge and Big Creek students do attend Sierra High School.  If the bond proposal significanly affected the high school, Pine Ridge and Big Creek were included in the vote.  Although Measure O pays off the Foothill campus,  that loan is paid from the general fund, and because the outcome so significantly impacts the high school programs, the fair and equitable course is for Pine Ridge and Big Creek to participate in the vote.
 
 
Q:  I'm hearing the original financing was $14,555,000 in 1991/2, but that the cost of Foothill was $17,110,000.  Which is it, and what is the difference?
A:  Per Janelle Uthiem, Asst. Superintendent of Financial Services, the original financing was for $14,550,000 in 1992.  In 1993, the amount was increased to $17,110,000, but at a lower interest rate, keeping annual payments the same.  The additional amount paid for offsite utilities, including the sewer plant.  In 2003, the loan (COP) was refinanced to lower interest rate, lowering the annual payments to their current levels ($1.158M/year), with final installment in March of 2017.