New school board head sees money as concern
DAN GUSTAFSON was elected president of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board two weeks ago.
The main concern facing the Sonoma Valley Unified School District in the near future is money, according to incoming school board president Dan Gustafson.
The district cut more than $2.5 million earlier this year, and if Proposition 30 had failed, the district would have had to cut almost $1.8 million more. Proposition 30, passed by voters in November, is Gov. Jerry Brown’s school tax initiative that hikes taxes for seven years on people earning more than $250,000 a year, and increases the sales tax by one-quarter of a percent for four years.
Gustafson is happy that Proposition 30 passed, even if it doesn’t mean any new money for the district.
“We budgeted for Proposition 30 to pass – and it did,” Gustafson said.
It’s estimated that Proposition 30 would raise $6 billion a year, but there are estimates that it could raise more than that.
“But we’ll have to wait until January to see the (governor’s) budget,” he said. “And we could have to wait until May to see the revised budget. And we could have to wait until July when the budget is supposed to be ready.”
Gustafson said the district’s economic position would be helped if local and state economics improve.
“It’s important that we get the information out to everyone,” he said. “We’ve tried to be transparent with the budget, almost to the point of numbing people.”
Even if the measure raises more than the estimated $6 billion a year, Gustafson isn’t sure it’ll help the district.
“If monies are available, you have to wonder if they’ll backfill,” he said. “But it does nothing for us because we’re paid out of property taxes.”
Backfill is making up some of the money the state has withheld from school districts over the past few years. Currently, the state is paying revenue limit districts 80 cents on the dollar of funds promised. Sonoma Valley, on the other hand, is a basic aid district because it receives its revenues only through local taxes.
The district is budgeting for a 2 percent rise in property taxes while the county is advising districts to budget about 1 percent.
“One percent for us is $250,000,” Gustafson said. “That’s two furlough days.”
This year, the district has eight furlough days.
But despite the financial concerns, Gustafson sees the district trying innovative programs, such as the freshman team at the high school, the school garden project, the Pathway and Linked Learning programs and the small learning communities.
“The financial and time resources the community provides is extraordinary,” he said. “We’re getting what we need if not what we want.”
The big project the district is working on now is its strategic plan. People have been working on the strategic plan most of this year and it will probably be March before it’s unveiled.
Gustafson said the plan will address the district’s critical benchmarks – quality preschool; reading at grade level by third grade; English proficiency by sixth grade; ready for college prep by ninth grade and career and college ready at graduation.
The district received a $300,000 Advance grant that will help educate parents about how to teach their children from the time they’re born.
“We need to address all levels,” Gustafson said. “Preschool, elementary, middle school and high school.”
“The community is filling in with programs along that 18-year route,” he added.
Gustafson credits the teachers, parents, administration and staff for keeping the wheels on the bus.
“Great people can offset the lack of money,” he said. “But money can’t offset the lack of great people.”
“We’re trying to grow our own great people,” he continued. “But it’s a challenge to keep people on the bus.”
One thing that opened his eyes recently was going to the California School Board Association convention.
“Other people are just now starting to talk about school gardens, about Pathway and Linked Learning, about small learning communities,” he said. “We have all of it.”
“It all goes back to our community,” he added.