Fresno Unified School District is investing big money in career technical education programs under an $801 million budget trustees passed at their meeting Wednesday night.
Board members quickly approved the yearly spending plan, which is about 12.6% higher than last year’s and is the product of months of board conversations and meetings with community members, parents, students and teachers. Overall, the district is getting about $90 million more from the state than it got last year.
About $10 million is for career programs and comes in the form of a one-time pot of money from Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget released in May. An additional $3 million in ongoing funding will be go toward existing career programs like Sunnyside High’s Doctor’s Academy.
A few board members have floated a plan to use new funding to build a career-oriented high school, but the board didn’t hash out those details Wednesday. How exactly the funds will be programmed is still being developed.
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The district’s budget also chips in more money to fund science materials, security cameras, athletic equipment, cafeteria tables, facilities and school libraries. The board is also investing about $10 million to purchase new English textbooks and $4 million on campus technology.
School employees can expect to see some sort of raise thanks to the additional state funds, though how much teachers and other staff get will be hashed out during labor negotiations in the coming weeks. Superintendent Michael Hanson said at last week’s board meeting that employees will get an increase and that conversations with local unions will begin soon.
Fresno Unified has seen its money from the state expand over the past three years under a new funding plan called the Local Control Funding Formula. The new model gives lots more money to districts like Fresno Unified, which has high numbers of the most at-risk students, including those in foster care, still learning English or those who come from low-income homes.
Under the new budgeting process school districts are expected to reach out to families and community groups to see how they’d like the district money to be spent.
A coalition of local education and community advocacy organizations had asked the board to spend more on parent engagement, including adding a new staff position at elementary schools with the most at-risk students. The new staffer position, which the coalition called community connector, was pitched by groups like Reading and Beyond as a role that would work with parents who have concerns about their child’s school work or issues going on at home.
Maria Ceballos, a program manager at Reading and Beyond, said Wednesday that she was pleased to see more money in the budget for school liaisons but said that position needs to better reflect what parents asked for.
Parents have attended recent meetings requesting more school staff who speak languages other than English, noting many parents don’t speak English and often have trouble getting information about their child.
No parents spoke Wednesday, a fact Ceballos said is telling about how parents feel about how the budgeting process has unfolded this year.
“We keep coming to these meetings, but at the same time (parents) are becoming disconnected, disappointed with the process. Even though they make the time to come to the meetings they still don’t feel their recommendations are being implemented,” Ceballos said.
Board members had few gripes about the proposed budget, though Trustee Carol Mills said the board needs to consider investing in long-term facilities maintenance projects.
Both Clovis and Central unifieds have superior campus buildings, she said, and Fresno Unified needs to invest more in its school facilities if it wants to remain competitive.
“Families do take notice,” she said.
Overall, most trustees said they were pleased with the final spending plan.
“Nobody gets everything we want but we all got a lot,” Trustee Janet Ryan said.