SUSD’s community schools program make the grade

Sanger Unified School District Board of Trustees also receive encouraging news regarding 2024-25 district budget

The Sanger Unified School District Board of Trustees hearing a presentation during a board meeting.
Darren Fraser
Published June 28, 2024  • 
9:30 am

SANGER – At the last meeting of the Sanger Unified School District (SUSD) Board of Trustees meeting, key updates were presented regarding the district’s programs and financial plans, setting the stage for some important discussions about the future.

On June 25, the Board was provided with the 2024 progress report on SUSD’s California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP). The Board also received information regarding LCFF funding for the 2024-25 school year and was provided with a breakdown of the district’s budget for the upcoming academic year from Ryan Kilby, chief business officer. Kilby said by adopting the budget, the Board was certifying the district was fiscally solvent for the next and two subsequent budget years.

CCSPP is a statewide program that embraces the idea that a student is shaped by a myriad of influences, both in and out of school. To this end, CCSPP has embraced the “whole child” approach to education. Community schools serve as sites where educators, administrators, students, families and community partners come together and collaborate on strategies to engage the whole child.

Each year, the district delivers a CCSPP progress report to the Board. SUSD Program Coordinator Cristina Hernandez, who administered the California Community Schools Partnership Program grant SUSD received from the California Department of Education (CDE) to run its CCSPP, informed the Board that when SUSD began its program, there were six schools or sites. The program has grown to 10 sites.

“We added four this year,” she said. She added that next year, SUSD will add two more schools which will serve as alternative education sites for next year.

Hernandez said three cohorts or groups in SUSD were awarded the grant. Cohort one includes Jackson Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Lone Star Elementary, Washington Academic Middle School (WAMS) and Wilson Elementary. In May 2022, this cohort was awarded a five-year grant in the amount of $8,757,500, with yearly allocations of $1,710,000.

Cohort two, including Del Rey Elementary, Madison Elementary, Reagan Elementary and Sanger High, was awarded a five-year grant in May 2023 in the amount of $6,412,500.

Cohort three includes Community Day and Kings River High. This cohort was awarded a five-year grant last May in the amount of $1,424,500.

Hernandez told the Board the purpose of the community grant is to improve academic outcomes.

“That is our purpose; that is why we do what we do,” she said. But in order for the program to achieve this goal, other components need to be in place.

“Lucky for us, as a district, we already embrace these things,” Hernandez said.

These components include collaborative leadership and practices for educators and administrators, whole-child engagement and family development, partnership strategies that include integrated health, mental health and social support services, and extended learning time and opportunities.

FOUR PILLARS

Hernandez said there are four pillars to a community grant. Regarding the first pillar, integrated student supports, she said SUSD already has a strong foundation in these supports.

“The grant has allowed us to expand on what is already taking place,” said Hernandez.

This pillar supports student success by meeting their academic, physical, social-emotional and mental health needs. SUSD provides health and vision screenings. Hernandez said the district expanded student supports by the introduction of resource fairs. Other additions include clothing drives during parent-teacher conferences, free student haircuts, parent support groups and food pantries.

“We know that for our students to be successful, we need that whole family and community engagement,” Hernadez said as she introduced the second pillar. “How do we engage our families?”

Parent/Student Advocates (Advocates) play an integral role in supporting students and in ensuring that the objectives laid out under each pillar are met. Advocates are volunteers who lead homework labs, lead lunchtime activities and engage students who would otherwise remain apart from student activities.

Hernadez said Advocates stepped in to help families who, typically, would not engage in school life. She said Advocates played a pivotal role in working with families with children who are chronically absent from school.

The third pillar focuses on collaborative leadership and practices. This pillar embraces the “whole child” concept by establishing a culture of learning and shared responsibility among students, families and community members.

Regarding the fourth pillar, expanded and enriched learning time and opportunities, Hernandez, again, placed the spotlight on the work of Advocates.

“Our Advocates really have stepped up here,” she said. “During recess, our Advocates go out there and provide a lot of structured activities for the students. They have taken on a lot of clubs.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, Board Trustee G. Brandan Vang gave his opinion on the program.

“The Board gets a lot of presentations. This is one of the presentations I believe has real-life impact,” he said. “We can actually see what this program is doing to the community. The four pillars you mentioned, the staff component, the students, the parents – I am excited about this program. If we get the parents onboard, we are at least halfway there to helping our students and making them better students.”

DISTRICT FUNDING

Tim Lopez, associate superintendent, educational services and Hernandez led the discussion on the state funds SUSD received under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) for the 2024-25 school year. All of the information falls under the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which Lopez said is a new plan.

The total revenue projected for SUSD for the year is $214,902,056. This amount is the total from all funding sources. Of this amount, $165,384,579 is from LCFF. The remainder comes from state, local and federal funds.

Included with budget materials that were disseminated to the Board was a budget overview for parents. According to this overview, SUSD plans to spend the entire projected revenue for 2024-25. That amount includes over $160 million in expenses tied to the LCAP. Board Trustee and Vice President Ryan Filippi asked why the district had budgeted revenue.

“The goal is to plan the LCAP and spend the entire LCAP,” Kilby said.

“There is a reason why we spend every dollar of the LCAP. Can you tell us why?” Board Trustee Tammy Wolfe asked Kilby.

“These are the dollars we get for the kids in school right now,” said Kilby. “Let’s spend all of those dollars on those kids.”

According to the overview, SUSD will spend over $33 million in the 2024-25 school year on increased or improved services for high needs students.

SUSD BUDGET

The last major topic discussed was the SUSD budget for 2024-25. Kilby provided the Board with the major talking points.

Kilby prefaced his remarks by saying, “As many of you know, a budget is just an estimation based on the information we have at the time. But so far, in my opinion for 24-25, everything looks pretty good.”

He said the district’s cash flow positions for the coming year were very strong. He added that, like an unsteady colossus straddling everything, the state’s financial uncertainties had to be considered.

“If I had to say anything about what my largest concerns are, it’s the state’s ability to actually generate more revenue,” Kilby said. “Because that’s what it’s going to take for the state to implement some of these plans and pay things back to the districts over the next few years.”

Kilby said that for the assumptions in the budget, he used the LCFF Calculator. He said the program takes current data and extrapolates it out two or three years.

“So, when we update (budget year) 23-24, we’re updating all the information – what is automatically happening is the 24-25 is updating,” he said.

Regarding ongoing – and increasing – costs, Kilby noted that there is an increase in the Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). He said the next increase is less than a percentage point but in the coming years, one to two percent increases are expected

Kilby described the budget as “very, very conservative.”

“With all the one-time dollars coming to an end, we have a lot of activity going on through the budget window,” he said. “There are a lot of open POs (purchase orders). When we close and settle out those, this (budget) bottom line will increase.”

Kilby said there are expenses that are well out of the district’s control. He added these are statewide trends and not peculiar to SUSD.

These expenses include spending increases for special education. He said the money is well spent, of course, but increases the contribution that has to be made from the general fund to support these services. And then there is insurance.

“Our liability and property insurances in California are going through the roof,” said Kilby. He said SUSD had a $650,000 increase on our liability and property insurance going into 24-25. “That’s something like 26%. We’re going from $1.9 million to $2.55 (million). Or something like that.”

Utilities – PG&E, specifically – are another skyrocketing expense.

“I don’t have a solid number,” said Kilby, “but we already experienced some double-digit increases.”

Kilby also said that fuel and transportation costs will continue to rise. Despite these costs, Kilby said he was optimistic.

“We’re trending in the right direction,” he said. “If everything continues based upon the information we have. As those things change, we make adjustments and I come back and report those things to you in the interim.”

Following Kilby’s presentation, the Board adopted the budget with no objections.

Darren Fraser
Reporter