Fresno Unified officials plan for extra $15 million

The Fresno BeeJuly 17, 2013 

Fresno Unified could get millions of dollars in public funding through the state's new local control funding formula, which some local officials say should be used to enhance career technical education programs and slash class sizes.

Jamilah Fraser, spokeswoman for Fresno Unified School District, said Wednesday the district is anticipating about $15 million extra from the state this upcoming school year. That's on top of $523.4 million the district has already budgeted, and compared to $507.5 million it got from the state last year.

Gov. Jerry Brown's $55 billion education spending package passed by lawmakers in June sends additional dollars to districts with high numbers of low-income students and English language learners.

The deal promises an additional $433 per student in Fresno Unified, raising the district's base allocation from $6,544 to $6,977 next year. After eight years and full implementation of the plan, that number would jump to $12,264.

Low-income districts like Fresno Unified, where 82% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, will also get "supplemental grants," or extra funds equal to 20% of their base grant.

How the money should be spent will likely be voted on by the Fresno Unified School Board in September or October. On Wednesday, some district administrators declined to offer specific recommendations.

That's because the district is still discussing contract benefits with the Fresno Teachers Association union and other union employees -- talks that could tie a portion of the new cash to teacher salaries. Documents from the FTA show longer workdays and adjusted class sizes are two items under discussion.

"It's important for us to meet the board's goals for producing career-ready graduates," said Ruth Quinto, Fresno Unified's chief financial officer. "We feel as though we have some opportunities to do that through changes in the contract," adding that she didn't want to provide specific details while negotiations are ongoing.

Other school leaders have their own suggestions for how to spend the extra funding.

FTA President Eva Ruiz said she hopes it's used to hire more teachers to shrink class sizes. The only place she hopes the money doesn't go, she said, is to hire more administrators.

Earmarking the dollars to recruit more educators with backgrounds in bilingual education, one board trustee suggested, could boost education opportunities for students learning English.

"My hope is we will allocate those resources to target the population they were intended for, English learners, and closing the achievement gap for them," said trustee Luis Chavez.

Other board members say the extra cash could help expand programs for students who either don't go to college or stop short of earning a higher degree.

Trustees Carol Mills and Michelle Asadoorian said they would support boosting the district's career technical education programs as a way to give those kids pathways to jobs.

"We need to give our students options in career technical education that create jobs that will stay in this area and this country, like plumbers, electricians and sheet metal workers," Mills said.

She declined to put a price tag on how much should be budgeted for career education, but she said adding those classes could require a significant investment in new equipment and facilities. It will largely be up to individual high schools, she said, to submit budget requests for new technical programs.

Giving high schools more support staff for athletics and activities, Asadoorian said, should also be on the table.

Some schools boast a robust team of parent volunteers to help with extracurricular activities, but "that should not be the expectation," she said. "We need to provide more support on a district-wide level, and we are not doing that."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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