• Joey Lai

School Board Meeting Recap from 9/15

September's school board meeting was full of changes and important announcements. But the most important announcement was missed by nearly 700 of the original 900 participants.

The meeting started off with an update on close meeting agenda items. The biggest update from the closed session was that Dr. Garcia and the Board agreed to mutually terminate her employment immediately as Superintendent of SMUSD. Dr. Tiffany Campbell was introduced as the interim Superintendent. I applaud Dr. Campbell for stepping up to take over the interim position. This is a tough position to step in to, especially at this time. The agreement to mutually separate was the right thing for all involved. Based on feedback from the community, teachers, labor partners, and some within the district; the communication and collaboration challenges were too large of a hurdle to overcome versus the progress that had been made by Dr. Garcia. The search now begins for a permanent replacement. Whomever they choose for the permanent position needs to have demonstrated how to lead through change, collaborate with all stakeholders, and has shown how to make tough decisions while communicating transparently on why (more on this later).

As a former Area Manager and Program Manager for Wells Fargo, I have had a tremendous amount of experience in recruiting and evaluating talent for management positions. Managing a sales area for within mortgage industry has many similarities to running a school district. My hope is the new board will take over ownership of recruiting and evaluating all candidates for the Superintendent position.

After updates on closed session items, Dr. Campbell presented the safe return to school options and the Board voted on the models to proceed with. Elementary schools were approved to proceed with a split A/B model, and for TK/K/ and some 1st grades to have every day instruction (1st grade depends on school site space). Monday for everyone will be a half day, remotely, as we have been doing already. I believe this is the right model given our current state. It allows teachers to maximize their time for 2 full days with each cohort. Many parents know from remote learning that core instruction (ELA and Math) have been about 2 hours of instruction each day. 2 full days of in person instruction should be the equivalent of what elementary kids are doing now remotely. On the days the students are not on campus they will be learning asynchronously. This could pose a challenge for some, but I am confident the teachers will prepare for the week, having task lists for kids to accomplish on days at home. iReady has been a nice addition to the elementary curriculum. An estimated 3rd week of October return date was given for elementary. More information will come from each site's Principal.

Secondary schools' in-person plan was limited to the split A/B schedule, and this was approved by the Board. The only surprise was that Dr. Campbell did not think we would be able to get all students back until January where there was a half year break. The reason for the projected January date was due to the build out of the master schedule, and too much disruption to student schedule if they tried to make the switch earlier. There was commitment to try to get small groups back to secondary campuses before January. Some small groups that were discuss were special education students, small clubs, and small class needing in person instruction (robotics, music). I am in favor of this plan, however I would have liked to see more specifics on the small group return prior to January. I hope to hear more on this soon so we can use our large secondary facilities as soon as possible.

The last agenda item (in my opinion, the most important) was an update on the projected budget. CBO Mark Schiel gave an update that projected major deficits starting in 2021-2022, with a major shortfall in 2022-2023 ($18 million deficit). The deficit was attributed to projecting lower revenue from the state due to the pandemic and lost tax revenue for the state (unemployment at a high, thus less state tax revenue). Mark also projected a COLA (cost of living adjustment) to be 0% which means an additional reduction in original projected revenue. There was also conversation about loss of students within the district, which equals less revenue. I appreciate Mark's honest remarks that this may lead to reduction in employment within the district. At the end of the presentation we learned that Mark was also leaving the District. Mark took a position in Northern California with another district. This is a large loss for our district as Mark was very thorough communicator, and a true pro when it came to financials. Unfortunately a majority of parents who originally logged on to the meeting did not stick around to hear the projections. Parents logging off is very unfortunate, because the budget projection is a major red flag that parents should be as concerned about, if not more concerned than a return to in person school plan, or the resignation of our former Superintendent.

When thinking about the next board members, having a financial background, balancing a P&L, experience in change management, and making tough decisions for the long haul are all things that need to be considered and would be a plus.

Hiring a new Superintendent and Chief Business Official, working through a pandemic, financial/budget issues, and maintaining district excellence will be a tall order for the Board. I hope all candidates for the board understand the job they are potentially stepping in to, and have experience and ideas on how to solution for these major pillars. It is no longer about getting rid of a Superintendent, it is about some real hurdles we face moving forward as a District.

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