School board approves new budget " with reservations | SierraSun.com

School board approves new budget " with reservations

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun

Trustees with the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District expressed serious reservations about how its new, $42.1 million spending plan should be spent during a marathon budget session in late June.

“This board doesn’t want to approve a budget that doesn’t work and is a waste of money,” Trustee Bill Kraus said during the four-and-a-half hour board meeting.

The adopted 2007-08 budget calls for $1.5 million less spending than the current year, but revenues in both years are sharply up from the three previous years, largely because of soaring property values and the resulting tax.

Enrollment at the district’s five elementary, two middle and four high schools is projected to drop from 4,108 to 4,029 in the coming school year, part of a decade-long trend that has seen enrollment drop 17 percent from 4,848 students in 1999-00.

By law the district must adopt the 2007-08 budget by the end of June. And the trustees did, but they froze many of the spending items. Before releasing the funds, the five-member board wants administrators to outline a spending plan that shows all 11 district schools have adopted similar goals.

The trustees are not looking for a spending plan as much as a new spending philosophy.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Earl Wammack said the board is pressing administrators to come up with “a process developed to best benefit the education of the students.”

How is that different from past spending plans?

“[We’re looking for] all [schools] to work toward the same goals of student achievement,” board President Kristy Olk said in an interview. “[That achievement should be] research-based and data-driven to get the best outcome.”

Olk said Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s 11 campuses have operated almost as different districts in the past, each one coming up with its own management strategy. Olk suggested that the district now should focus on uniform staff training and collaboration.

The focus on district-wide goals is largely a product of the federal No Child Left Behind law. But Olk said she likes to make a distinction between President George W. Bush’s education program and the Tahoe district’s philosophy. The first-term trustee said a lot of board’s goals are driven more by concern with student achievement than with meeting federally required testing stadards. Trustees are attempting to balance the competing philosophies.

Poor student performance in standardized tests have placed three of the district’s schools in the federal category that requires program improvement. North Tahoe Middle School is in its fifth year of non-attainment. The federal act gives a school three years to improve scores (after a two-year grace period) before any punitive action is levied, usually a funding cut or, in extreme cases, the firing or relocating of teachers. So far, no budget sanctions have been imposed on the district.

Director of Curriculum Jessamy Lasher said the federal law doesn’t take into account the diversity of some districts and schools. She explained that the Tahoe Truckee district has many native Spanish-speaking students who can drag down the overall test scores. But Lasher said those students are not dead weight because they progress according to different standards.

The federal plan does receive some praise from local educators.

“The good thing [about No Child Left Behind] is textbook publishers have aligned themselves with our curriculum,” Lasher said. “[And there’s] better alignment as far as what we’re teaching.”

And Olk said there are a lot of positives in the federal act. But she noted that its ultimate goal of 100 percent test achievement by 2014 is unrealistic.

Will the district lose funding because of the federal mandate?

“Our funding is declining because our enrollment is declining,” Lasher said.

But she said losing funding because of underperforming schools will probably not happen. The curriculum director said she’s confident the district’s students will test higher this year, which will help the district avoid any third-year penalties recommended by No Child Left Behind.

Administrators have scheduled a special staff meeting Tuesday to discuss budget matters, and the board intends to hold another meeting before releasing funds under the district’s new spending plan.

“I want a really good process so the product is viable,” Superintendent of Personnel Jo Wilson said.