In an effort to continue our policy of being transparent to the entire Madera community, I feel a response is warranted to the April 10 Madera Tribune headline, “Heavier at the Top,” referring to the District Administration of Madera Unified.
Madera Unified, and all public school districts in California, suffered from severe budget cuts during the economic downturn that commenced during the 2008/09 school year. Over a period of five years, State funding for schools was cut 22 percent. Few private sector businesses or corporations have a margin that would have allowed them to continue operating with a revenue loss of that size. Nevertheless, schools must remain open, and to do so, cuts were implemented and class sizes were increased.
The passage of Proposition 30 and the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, however, have dramatically improved the financial standings of public schools, especially those with great poverty, such as Madera Unified. The “new” administrative positions referred to in the Tribune article are not actually new, but are restored administrative positions (in some cases re-named or with revised job descriptions and upgraded from coordinator to director) that were cut since 2008. The nine restored administrative positions approved this school year represent a total increase of less than $40,000 when compared to the positions that were eliminated during the past five years.
It is important to note that the MUSD board has hired additional classified and teaching Staff. Music and art teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, psychologists, and custodians have all been hired. This month alone will see the hiring of 79 academic teacher coaches to support primary literacy, technology, and English learners. A community support specialist will be hired to assist students in foster care and students exhibiting at-risk behaviors. In July 2013, the board implemented a reduction in class sizes in K-3rd even before it was mandated under LCFF. Our projections are that reductions in class sizes alone will result in the creation of 46 new teaching positions over the next two years.
MUSD is one of Madera’s largest employers, and we are working tirelessly to demonstrate to the community that we are good fiscal stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars. Enrollment in the district swelled by almost 300 students this year, an encouraging sign but one that necessitates planning for additional facilities to house these students. We are aggressively budgeting money in our building fund to accommodate the necessary classrooms and new schools that this growth will require. Our budgeting model is being studied at the state level for its forward-thinking. In January, we refinanced our largest debt and saved taxpayers more than $1.5 million from the lower interest rate that we were able to obtain. Even our recent attempt to secure a replacement for our 48-year old district office was an effort to purchase a larger building in a cash sale rather than pursuing the costly financing of a building project in the future.
The Board of Trustees and I believe that hiring only the most highly qualified employees is justified in today’s high stake’s world. We are stressing transparency and fairness in all transactions. We have held more than 10 community meetings since January to explain to the public our new funding model and to ascertain their input as to what they consider their priorities. We have heard from the public, loud and clear, that they want a curriculum that offers the arts, technology, and career technical education. Several of our new administrative hires reflect these priorities.
The public has also expressed its desire to have upgraded facilities for our teachers and students. We are expanding our networking with our higher education partners and educational entities throughout the state and the nation. Just last week, I was invited by Peter Ammon, the German ambassador to the United States, to send a representative to join a select delegation of educators from throughout the United States to visit Germany and see first hand the world class career technical education model that they utilize.
This year’s successes have been too many to mention briefly. Our Future Farmers of America cohort and Ag School are the envy of districts throughout the region. The MHS color guard and percussion ensemble, and the MSHS cross country teams reached unprecedented heights this year, achieving statewide recognition and distinction. The Mad-town Robotics team was again invited to compete at the World Championship Robotics tournament in St. Louis from April 23-26. We are allocating extra resources to academic competitions at all school levels.
Our relationships with our labor partners are positive, and our efforts to improve community and business partnerships are paying great dividends. And hopefully, the district will have shovels in the ground for the construction of a new elementary school before the 2014-15 school year is over.
We are committed to the renaissance of Madera Unified, and I am confident that, with the community’s help, our best days lie ahead.
superintendent of Madera Unified School District