Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 1:48 pm | Fair 77º

 
 
 
 

From Funding to Services, Santa Barbara District Prepares for New School Year

Changes are in store, with administrators working to improve programs and to build on rising achievement scores

Budget concerns are at the forefront of any education system discussion these days, and the Santa Barbara School District’s top administrators have a lot on their minds as they gear up for the first day of school.

Despite about $20 million in budget cuts since 2007-08, elementary and secondary students’ achievement scores have been on an upward climb, Superintendent Brian Sarvis said.

STAR and exit exam tests show some variety year-to-year, but the overall trend has been going up, which administrators also credit to hardworking teachers, solid academics and improved English Second Language programs.

There were 69 layoff notices issued to teachers in May because of lowered enrollments and funding, though 42 have been rescinded because of early retirements and teachers leaving. A federal jobs bill passed by the House of Representatives this week could dole out another $140 to $180 per student, and though those one-time funds wouldn’t help the overall budget since they would be earmarked for salaries and benefits, some teachers could be hired back, according to Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith.

Two administrative positions have been eliminated as well, including the director of safety, welfare and attendance, which is being combined with retired student services and compliance director Michael Gonzalez’s position.

Gifted and talented education (GATE) courses got a lot of attention earlier this year, but Associate Superintendent of Education Robin Sawaske reiterated this week that nothing has been eliminated from the program, though some courses are now called honors. Secondary schools also have advanced placement, international baccalaureate and dual enrollment with SBCC as opportunities for advanced coursework, she said.

Struggling students still have access to so-called “bridge programs,” in which students are dually enrolled in comprehensive high schools and intensive continuation high schools such as the Dos Pueblos Charger Academy, San Marcos Bridge High School, Santa Barbara Alternative High School and La Cuesta Continuation High School.

District administrators are focusing on the homes of youngsters as well, with additional programs for parental education for those with preschool and elementary students to better prepare families and children for the education system. Community connections are also a big part of early education, and the Harding University Partnership School, which changed its name to show its close relationship with UCSB, will be “flooded with graduate students” this year, Sawaske said.

FCMAT — the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team — has filed less-than-complimentary reports on the districts’ special-education and child-care programs, citing a lack of district office oversight and issues with leadership and finances.

In the year since FCMAT called for an overhaul of special education, a new executive director has been hired, resigned and replaced with Kerri Mills, who was the director of the elementary district’s program. Mills was replaced by a program specialist, whose position is being filled.

To organize a strategic plan to address the recent recommendations of the child-care program, the district is creating a program director position. State funding for child care is questionable for next year, and the district’s efforts to raise $100,000 to save HIPPY (home instruction for parents of preschool youngsters) are ongoing.

Even with half of that, a part-time employee could start reaching out to small pockets of families in the community, Sawaske said. She encourages all parents to enroll their children sooner rather than later, especially those going into kindergarten this year, as Aug. 23 is the first day of school.

On the fiscal front, the district has two bond measures slated for November’s ballot that would fund infrastructure and facility upgrades to all of its schools. The tax rate would remain unchanged, and if approved by 55 percent of voters, the bond measures would borrow $35 million and $75 million against future taxes for the elementary and secondary districts, respectively. Some of the district’s facilities, such as those at Santa Barbara High School, are among the oldest in the state.

With one district as a revenue-limit district and one as basic aid, and neither fully embedded as such, it’s difficult to predict revenues or significant changes because of the still-undecided state budget, Smith said.

“Cash is becoming a concern over all our funds,” he said.

The district also continued negotiations with the city on Tuesday, as it’s trying to obtain property on South Calle Cesar Chavez Street to refurbish its maintenance and operations facility. Sarvis said some Redevelopment Agencies serve school districts, and since tax dollars have gone to RDA instead of directly to schools in the past, he’s hoping the city will give the district the property.

“The RDA has taken $6 million from the elementary district in the last few years — that’s as much as cuts,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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