Fresno Unified OKs $646m budget, Bullard High improvements

The Fresno BeeJune 5, 2013 

Fresno Unified school trustees on Wednesday approved a $646 million budget for next school year and signed off on a plan they previously rejected to renovate Bullard High School.

The 6-1 vote to approve improvements at Bullard comes after a February board decision to reject spending $35 million on improvements at Bullard High.

The improvements were part of a bond measure approved by district voters in 2010.

In February, trustees agreed to proceed with constructing two classroom buildings that would eliminate 30 portable classrooms but refused to approve construction of an expanded administration building and library.

Wednesday's decision will pave the way for the school to complete those previously rejected projects.

In the past, Trustees Christopher De La Cerda, Luis Chavez and Cal Johnson expressed concerns about the project, arguing that Bullard has received a disproportionate share of funds in recent years. But all three members voted to approve the measure Wednesday.

"I don't do this haphazardly, so I hope the community recognizes the needs, and I do support that we move forward," De La Cerda said.

Trustee Carol Mills, who has firmly opposed the measure, cast the lone "no" vote.

"The new classrooms are well-deserved, but I think the needs are great across this district," she said. "I think there needs to be an equitable apportionment of money, and this money could be used elsewhere for a greater good."

Board approves $646m budget

Passage of the $646 million spending plan includes more than $1 million for professional development and $2.6 million to hire new teachers.

The budget package, a 5.7% uptick from last year's spending plan, was approved on a 6-1 vote, with Trustee Michelle Asadoorian dissenting.

The budget includes $25 million to hire new counselors in Fresno middle schools, improve online learning resources in high schools and support magnet programs and more.

The board also earmarked money for 45 new teachers with the goal of cutting class sizes by one student in grades four through 12.

It also sets aside $500,000 for career technical education programs, a figure several trustees said just isn't enough.

"I feel passionate about increasing this line item three- or four-fold, and I can't support this budget with such a meager allocation," Asadoorian said.

Even so, Fresno Unified superintendent Michael Hanson told reporters the district is in a "very strong budget position" going into next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

"Eight years ago we were on the verge of financial takeover from the state, and we now have a budget which we can sign on the dotted line, with board approval, that guarantees dramatic investment in student programs," he said.

The district is positioned to get even more money from the state, he said, if an education budget overhaul being pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown gets a nod from lawmakers as they wrap up budget discussions later this month.

Brown's budget would shift funds to districts with low-income students and English-language learners, a plan that's faced resistance from some lawmakers who argue it pits more affluent schools against needy ones.

Hanson said Fresno Unified could get up to $13.8 million in state funds next year and another $40.1 million in fiscal year 2014-15 if the governor's plan is approved.

In other action:

  • Cafeteria workers from Lane Elementary School asked trustees to stop a district plan that would close their school's kitchen and bring packaged breakfasts and lunches across town from the district-wide kitchen on Brawley Avenue in northwest Fresno. Thirty-seven elementary schools already use the so-called "satellite" lunch program. Fresno Unified spokeswoman Jamilah Frasier confirmed the district plans to transition the remaining 31 elementary schools to satellite lunches next school year.
  • The board promoted David Chavez, formerly an administrative analyst for the district, to the superintendent's chief of staff. Chavez replaces Babatunde Illori, who recently became the district's director of equity and access. (Note: the original version of this story listed an incorrect title for Illori.) Chavez will be paid $113,000 annually. Twenty-four high school students were awarded $3,000 and $1,000 scholarships.

The reporters can be reached at hfurfaro@fresnobee.com, banderson@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6330.

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