By Jorge Casuso
April 3 – City and School District officials have reached a three-year agreement that would pump $7.6 million in City funding into the cash-strapped district during the upcoming fiscal year in exchange for public use of school facilities.
The agreement -- which the City Council is expected to approve on Tuesday -- also would require that the district maintain a public committee to review Special Education policy and programs, which have been the target of parent protests for years.
The agreement to extend and adjust a current pact ratified by the council in May 2004 comes two weeks after District officials announced they might need to release or reassign 16 administrators to help bridge a budget deficit that could reach $6 million by the end of the year.
Other proposals to address a projected loss of some $12 million in State funding over the next two fiscal years include freezing hiring, increasing class size and reducing health benefits.
The agreement with the City calls for a cost of living adjustment of between 2 and 4 percent a year and additional increases depending on the fiscal health at the City’s “Big Eight” revenue streams, comprised of taxes and fines.
The increases, City Manager Lamont Ewell wrote in a report to the council, would be “based on the value to the City of use of the District’s facilities and the City’s ability to provide the School District with additional compensation for the use of District properties.”
During negotiations that spanned three months, City and District officials reviewed “each entity’s fiscal conditions and budgetary challenges, including the challenges facing each as a result of the unprecedented economic downturn and State budget reductions,” Ewell said.
The agreement calls for convening an adjustment conference each January “to discuss any additional adjustments.”
The proposed agreement comes nearly three months after the council unanimously voted to release $840,000 in additional funding it had held back for nearly two years because it was not satisfied with the District’s efforts to revamp its special education policies.
For years, the parents had charged that top administrators were strong-arming them into agreements they couldn’t discuss and that the district was short-shrifting the needs of their children.
The proposed agreement requires that the District “continue to maintain the Special Education District Advisory Committee (SEDAC) or similar public committee” that would make recommendations and report to the School Board.
The board would be required to hold a minimum of two semi-annual meetings on special education policies and programs.
The agreement also continues to hold the District accountable for the use of the City funds.
“While both organizations acknowledge and agree that the decisions on use of the City’s payments are best left to the discretion of the Board of Education, an extension of the Agreement will continue to call for School District accountability to the community,” Ewell wrote.
The current agreement has a number of safeguards, including requiring the District to report annual outcomes and the value derived by both agencies, post the district’s budget online and at local libraries and schools, and establish a financial oversight committee made up of fiscal experts.
The proposed pact come five years after the council voted in May 2004 to give the cash-strapped School District between $6 million and $8 million a year over the next five years in exchange for allowing the City and the community to use school facilities to meet growing recreational needs.
The vote averted a potentially divisive ballot initiative sponsored by the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) that pressured the council to come up with a last-ditch compromise agreement after the group gathered the necessary signatures to qualify the charter amendment on the November ballot.
In previous years, the City had voluntarily given the district between $3 million and $5.25 million a year.