Fresno Unified trustees approve $726 million budget

The Fresno BeeJune 4, 2014 

Career technical education programs, Fresno's community day school and campus security measures will get millions more next school year under a $726 million spending plan Fresno Unified trustees approved on a 6-1 vote Wednesday.

The board also passed its long-awaited Local Control Accountability Plan, which outlines how new programs will target at-risk students.

It's the first year California schools have had access to millions more in state money under a revised education formula that gives more cash to districts with lots of English learners, foster students and low-income youth. More than 85% of Fresno Unified students fall into one of those categories. Overall, this year's plan is an 11% uptick from last year's budget, which totaled $646 million.

Trustee Michelle Asadoorian, the lone member to oppose the budget, also voted no on the accountability plan, citing concerns that, "we're painting a very broad brush when the needs of many of our schools are totally different.

"What I'm not seeing in this plan is a more granular approach in dealing with what each specific school needs," she said.

Wednesday's vote marks the end of a months-long process that called on parents, community groups and students to give their two cents on how to spend the new cash. Parents have largely called for more bilingual school staff while advocacy groups have asked for extra funding for alternative discipline practices, among other things.

Many have expressed frustration with the board, saying they've offered their opinions but feel their suggestions fell on deaf ears. At Wednesday's meeting, several parents who spoke at the dais reiterated their budget ideas.

Sandab Suon, father of a Sunnyside High teen, said trying to communicate with his child's teachers and office staff has become a headache because he speaks only Cambodian.

District officials said $400,000 of this year's budget will go toward hiring 18 new bilingual office workers. More than 60 of the district's schools have staff who are bilingual, said Ruth Quinto, district chief financial officer.

When trustee Luis Chavez pressed the issue, Quinto acknowledged that "there frankly are some languages that we just can't cover." More than 60 languages are spoken across Fresno Unified families, she added.

Officials said the district contracts with outside interpreters, but parents who need translation could be asked to set up a special meeting with school staff to use that service.

That's concerning, said trustee Christopher De La Cerda.

"You don't understand the language, how can you increase that communication?" he said.

Other budget highlights:

  • Fresno high schools will get $5 million to expand career technical education programs and add new ones.
  • The district's programs for at-risk students will get an extra $2 million, which will largely be used to hire staff and add student seats at Phoenix Academy, which will serve kids in grades 7-12.
  • Edison and McLane high schools will get a share of $1.5 million to spend on alternative discipline practices that emphasize mediation instead of expulsions or suspensions. The district will spend $2.5 million more on school counselors.
  • High schools and middle schools will get more security cameras installed, plus extra lighting on campus, through a one-time $3.5 million investment.
  • The district plans to create a foster youth roundtable and hire social workers dedicated to working with at-risk students including those who live in shelters, hotels or foster homes. That plan totals $1 million.

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

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