Reality Check

Given the economic environment the Scotts Valley School district finds itself in, it would come as no surprise employees not feeling very good about their plight. Having spent 15 years at Borland, a now defunct Scotts Valley stalwart, I know first hand what’s it’s like to weather a dozen years of layoffs, downsizing, lack of employee continuing education, shrinking benefits, static salaries and rock bottom morale etc. It’s not fun and strangles effective communication.

In the midst of an economic downturn paralleled only by the Great Depression many people, companies and organizations are struggling with morale and I’d expect the Scotts Valley’s Teacher’s union is no exception. Like all CA school districts SVUSD has weathered significant cutbacks for many consecutive years with several more to come and if you look closely, which I have, I believe you’ll find this Administration (and Board) seem to be responsibly managing the district’s declining resources despite California’s over complicated and deeply flawed Public school financing system evidenced by the fact other local schools face massive deficits this year. By 2011-2012 the the state’s dire fiscal situation is poised to send 100’s of school districts into qualified if not negative certification (meaning deficit spending) which is where SVUSD will land unless options such as a parcel tax are passed to prevent such an outcome. Unless the State of California can miraculously turn around in the next 16 months its Public schools, which educate 1 in 8 children in the United States will require a Federal bailout
Fortunately, Scotts Valley has a very small school district thus there are a variety of avenues for establishing dialog with the key players. While the Scotts Valley Banner is an option in a tiny city like ours I’ve personally found it very effective to directly engage the members of the Board and individuals at the District office face-to-face affording me the opportunity to foster trust, gain an understanding and grasp the magnitude of the challenges they face running a school system shackled by our state’s fiscal bureaucracy. I’ve met with or spoken to all but one of the SV Board members and have spent several hours at the district office pouring over the budget or discussing it with the CBO and have found everyone to be dedicated and willing to indulge my frequent requests for information. I spent an eight hour weekday at the District’s Strategic Planning meeting, a process Dr. Silver brought to Scotts Valley, to ensure it was heading in the right direction based on feedback from students, teachers, staff, Board members, and community members. I don’t recall seeing any of the most outspoken people in the community at the meeting though admittedly I didn’t know everyone in the room. That day was spent examining, discussing and approving the mission of the district with a large emphasis on finding solutions to the immediate fiscal crisis.
Lastly, regarding the Superintendent’s job, a position for which SVUSD pays less than other similar sized districts (refer to SARC data), I imagine it to be very tough requiring a wide variety of skills to deal with children, teachers, classified staff, unions, boards and the public (I’m sure I’m missing several other categories). While I don’t know the entire history of the current SV Superintendent I know that when difficult fiscal decisions are to be made all eyes will be on that individual whomever it may be at the time and there are bound to be lots of passionately unhappy people despite their best efforts.
For instance, just grasp this quote from “Getting Down to Facts: School Finance and Governance in California” about California’s public school financing system:
A complex and irrational finance system. The number of dollars available to each school district is largely an historical artifact of spending in the 1970s combined with confusing categorical grant programs. As a result, similar districts can receive substantially different revenues per  pupil, and differences in student needs across districts are not systematically accounted for in determining revenue levels. In addition, the finance system is extraordinarily complex and imposes substantial and costly compliance burdens on school districts. Pre-dating the implementation of modern accountability systems, the current finance structure has never been updated to align with the states accountability system, nor redesigned to help local officials meet student performance goals.

As much as some may want to scrap the Board and Superintendent the problems the district faces are likely to worsen leaving whomever we manage to elect/hire with unmitigated and ongoing problems not to mention having to start from scratch with all the aforementioned groups. In my opinion, working with those who were dedicated enough to have sought these positions, particularly our unpaid Board is the path I’ve chosen.