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School Board Set to Deficit Spend, Hire ‘Civil Rights Officer’

The Santa Clara Unified School District board is set to spend $4 million more than it has in the upcoming school year.

At its Thursday meeting last week, the board adopted its yearly budget, which it is required to do before July 1. However, one trustee took issue the spending, saying it raised “great concerns” for him. 

“I don’t think the solution is always to spend our way out,” Trustee Mark Richardson, the dissenting vote, said.

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Richardson pointed to the addition of two new positions at the school — a safety manager and a civil rights officer — as a good opportunity to dial back on spending. The safety manager position annual salary starts at $82,679, and the civil rights officer salary starts at $130,150. The district has added 28 new management positions over the past five year, making the district, Richardson said, too “top heavy.”

Despite Richardson’s “top heavy” claim, Patty Picard, Chapter 350 president of the California Schools Employees Association, a teachers union, said while the union is always weary of adding management positions, the budget and the new positions proposed are sound. She added that all the items up for adoption were things the board already considered, adding that if members of the board had concerns about them, they should have raised them previously. 

The discussion surrounding the budget was framed by the retirement of SCUSD superintendent of business services, Mark Allgire, who was unavailable to answer the board’s questions. Trustee Jim Canova asked if the board would be able to “tap the brakes a little bit on some of the big-ticket items” until Allgire’s replacement begins and gets acclimated.

Peta Roberts, a member of the public, shared Richardson’s concerns, noting how, although the district’s income had doubled in just a few short years, expenses have ballooned at a disproportionate rate.

“We should be saving money in the good times to spend in the bad,” she said. 

However, Superintendent Stanley Rose said while the district occasionally has years where it deficit spends, by year’s end the budget is always “at or near break-even.” Other “wild cards” are more troubling than the district’s deficit spending, he said. For instance, should state law change or the economy take a nosedive, it would be far more detrimental than the deficit spending.

Trustee Albert Gonzalez said the budget, with expenses such as wellness programs, is “representative of our priorities.” 

“We are not a bank,” he said. “The money we receive is there to meet the needs of the students we have.”

Every board member agreed that the board needs to keep an eye on its spending but did not see the situation as alarming as Richardson.

When Canova asked whether the board could “push pause” on hiring the civil rights officer — mostly as an olive branch to Richardson — Andrew Lucia, assistant superintendent, told him he had a “number of concerns” in doing that, namely that the window to attract quality candidates would close. Lucia said other schools have moved toward having similar positions.

The need for a civil rights officer is presumably in direct response to the numerous sexual harassment allegations lobbed at former City Council Member and teacher Dominic Caserta early last month.

Bond for Infrastructure Needs

The board also heard from Larry Adams, director of school bond projects, on a new bond measure to raise money for the district’s aging infrastructure.

The need amounts to $1.2 billion, but Adams said levying a tax to cover all those needs is unrealistic. Instead, he provided the board with a plethora of options ranging from $431 million to $875 million.

Among these projects is building the new Agnews campus, replacing roofs, plumbing, electrical and ventilation systems, giving both Patrick Henry and Monticello schools facelifts, and rebuilding Peterson’s pool. Because the district will not be able to levy enough money to address all the needs in the district, Adams said the most needy schools will get priority.

Trustee Andrew Ratermann said favoring putting the money into the most needy districts was a “struggle” for him. An approach that has “something for everybody” is “more practical,” he said, especially when trying to get enough votes to pass a bond measure.

Gonzalez said the district needs a measure that aims to capture as much money as possible to address as many needs as possible.

“It will put us in a better situation,” he said . “The more you put things off, the more it is going to cost later.”

The board meets again Aug. 10.

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