Sonoma County Office of Education Superintendent Steven Herrington won’t be at Tuesday night’s Sonoma Valley Unified School District meeting because of a death in his family.
The district invited Herrington and Judy Thomson, SCOE’s director of External Financial Services, to tonight’s meeting after the district received a letter in October about the district’s finances.
But board President Dan Gustafson isn’t sure when the invitation can be rescheduled.
“We asked them to come to the meeting,” Gustafson said. “They want to make sure were we’ll be making the cuts
The October letter stated that SCOE has serious concerns that the district “is at risk of insolvency and has not addressed critical elements of the district’s operations.”
The letter said that the district must implement a spending freeze no later than Oct. 1; that the staff must begin a thorough review of the adopted budget review; review all categorical programs; and develop a staffing ratio consistent with enrollment projections.
In a subsequent interview, Sonoma Valley Unified School District Supertintendent Chuck Young told the Index-Tribune, “Our financial situation is certainly not great at the present time. We’ve been running a deficit for the last three consecutive school years which has reduced our reserves. That is clearly, as the SCOE letter indicated, not a sustainable condition. At some point without actions, the reserves would run out and the district would not only be in danger of insolvency, but would be insolvent. The district has been working hard to address this serious issue.”
Gustafson said the district knew it would have to make upcoming cuts and said that Linda Grundhoffer, who has worked with other districts including Richmond and Windsor, has been working with the district to identify places where cuts can be made.
“SCOE wants us to be specific by the middle of January,” Gustafson said.
The district is on the cusp between basic aid, where property taxes supply most of the district’s revenues, and LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) which is how the state funds school districts.
“It makes it hard to judge,” Gustafson said. “We know where STRS and PERS are going to be. But we’ve got increasing expenses and declining revenues.”
STRS is the teacher retirement plan while PERS is classified personnel retirement plan.
“We’ll find ways to cut,” he added.
The board will also hear the finding of the complaint that was filed in May against schoolboard trustee John Kelly by former director of Curriculum and Instruction Karla Conroy. Conroy filed the complaint alleging that Kelly created a hostile work environment.
At that time, the board named an investigator, Amy Oppenheimer, to look into the charges.
Oppenheimer interviewed 19 individuals including administrators, board members, teachers and parents. Most of the names of the people interviewed were kept secret to reduce concerns about retaliation.
In her conclusions, Oppenheimer wrote, “Kelly himself was not a particularly credible witness. He would not answer questions directly, tried to deflect blame on to others when asked about his own behavior, and was manipulative in his responses.”
Kelly is scheduled to read a statement at tonight’s meeting.
According to the agenda, Young will determine what, if any, next steps are required to resolve the investigation and will bring that determination to the December board meeting.