Career technical education programs could be the big winner under Fresno Unified’s $801 million proposed spending plan for next school year, which was hashed out but not voted on at the district’s school board meeting Wednesday night.
Millions more — including both one-time funds and ongoing dollars — could be used to expand current career programs or add new ones. How exactly the funds will be used is still being discussed.
About $10 million of the new career program funding comes as a bit of a surprise: the one-time dollars are part of a last minute pot of money from the state under Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget that was released this month.
The district is also committing an extra $3 million in ongoing funds from the revise for career programs like Sunnyside High’s Doctor’s Academy and other career pathway programs.
Local school districts including Fresno Unified have seen their chunk of state money 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. Overall, the district’s proposed budget is about 12.4% higher than last year’s.
Over the past few years the district has used some of its new money to expand career programs — everything from healthcare-oriented classes to courses on engineering and technology — at all its high schools.
But some have criticized the district for moving too slowly and without focus on high-demand careers like welding and other trades.
Trustees, most recently Brooke Ashjian, Luis Chavez and Carol Mills, have pushed hard for more robust programs and have floated the possibility of a career-focused high school. A group of city leaders including the trio have also discussed partnering with local community colleges that offer career programs.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Superintendent Michael Hanson didn’t commit to a new school but didn’t take it off the table either.
Trustee Valerie Davis was more pointed on the topic.
“As we all know, we can’t build a school on $10 million,” she said.
Among the millions more the district is getting in other one-time dollars, $10 million would fund new English textbooks and materials. About $4 million is set aside for campus technology and the remaining monies would be used on water conservation projects and science class equipment.
A slew of other items — technology, security cameras, athletic equipment, cafeteria tables, facilities, school libraries — are also getting more money.
After the initial proposals were made, trustees had their own wish lists.
Ashjian said he’d like to see money for gifted and talented programs. Trustee Christopher De La Cerda said he’d like to see more support staff for special education students. Mills said athletic fields need better lighting and Fort Miller Middle needs a computer lab.
Most middle and high schools have one, she said, but, “for some reason Fort Miller does not and this is a student population that does not have access (at home) ... and that’s frankly access and a skill they need for modern life.”
Trustee Janet Ryan said she was just happy to be talking about investing instead of budget slicing, which not too long ago was the case during the depths of the recession.
“This is a much better feeling and it’s a whole lot more fun,” she said.
Mostly absent from Wednesday’s conversation were talks about employee raises, though Hanson noted bargaining with labor groups will begin soon. Some of the new money would go toward employee raises, he said.
The final budget will be voted on in June.