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New Superintendent Assigns Task Force for Financial Assessment

Only time will tell if Dr. Jeff Wilson’s recommendation to form a task force to review the San Marino Unified School District’s financial status will be a good idea, but there is no debate that it isn’t the new superintendent’s first.

And that is what it will be called. Given the acronym FiRST for Fiscal Resources Strategic Team, Wilson announced at Tuesday’s school board meeting that district staff will immediately begin the process of recruiting 10-20 individuals to review, analyze and assess the current revenues, financial resources, assets and community support as the SMUSD enters the 2019-20 school year with an acknowledged deficit of $2.5 million.

“Something needs to change,” said Wilson, quoting California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Wilson mentioned increased costs for special education, declining enrollment and unfunded pension liability as causes for the shortfall and the task force’s charge to identify any other potential financial options, opportunities and alternatives.

“These changes have greatly impacted us,” Wilson said.

An application process will be immediately launched with the goal of identifying the members by September 16. Twice-monthly meetings will take place from September 23, 2019 through May 15, 2020 with a report due in late May. Wilson pointed out that the group is not an advisory committee, but a targeted task force.

During the public comment section of the item, Letitia Aranda, president of the San Marino Teachers Association (SMTA) urged Wilson to consider using a significant number of teachers to comprise the task force.

“We are in complete approval regarding the need for this task force,” Aranda said, speaking on behalf of the SMTA. Aranda said that teachers are often excluded from these opportunities.

“It is bothersome when we don’t involve our teachers more,” Aranda said.

Aranda also pointed out that 64% of all teachers in the SMUSD have earned at least a Master’s degree.

“We have a stake in this and teachers have so much to offer,” she said. “Nobody has reached out to the SMTA on this. Our theme for this school year is ‘All In’ and I hope we can work together. I pray you will include us.”

Wilson groaned that even while California’s economy and fiscal surplus have grown, funding for its schools has not.

Wilson praised the support given by the local community and pointed out that the SMUSD is rare in that Los Angeles County includes donations from the San Marino Schools Foundation towards its official budget.

The board also heard a report on dual enrollment from Javier Carbajal-Ramos, the assistant director of educational partnerships and programs at Pasadena City College. Dual enrollment allows high school students to take classes at local universities and Carbajal-Ramos mentioned that San Marino High School is currently hammering out a memorandum of understanding with PCC. In the most recent school year, 43 San Marino High School students have taken classes at PCC, earning more than 100 units in the process. The classes are transferable within the University of California and California State University systems.

“My concern is that our students already have a very robust curriculum here,” said School Board Member Shelley Ryan. “I am still hearing that some of our students are impacted by [advanced placements] and are already under a lot of stress. I am not for the ‘give them more and see how they do’ approach.”

The board also heard reports from all four site principals regarding the beginning of the school year.

“We had a fabulous opening,” said Colleen Shields, principal of Valentine Elementary School. “Enrollment is up and we had a great professional development day.”

Shields said that her entire staff read “The Advantage” to prepare for the new school year and the faculty discussed the book at the initial meeting.

“We ended up spending almost two hours on the activity,” said Shields. “I saw our staff bond in ways I have never seen before.”

Shields also said the school is looking into a program called MindYeto and will increase its use of mindfulness exercises.

Huntington Middle School Principal Alana Fauré said the Foxes enjoyed a “monumental” beginning. Mitch Lehman Photos

Carver Elementary School Principal Dr. Michael Lin has set goals of getting his students up to speed on reading proficiency and assuring that all students have access to enrichment programs. He also stressed the importance of “building relationships.”

Alana Fauré called the return to Huntington Middle School “monumental” due to the opening of the Barth Athletic Complex.

“Later in the first week we had a historic event when we all met in the gym for our first spirit assembly,” Fauré said. “We are off and running, off to a great start.”

She also praised her staff and district personnel for a “100% safety rate” during the construction of the Barth Athletic Complex.

“During that two years there were hundreds of ingresses and egresses,” she said, “including dozens of large concrete pours and there was not a single incident. That is a great accomplishment.”

Principal Dr. Issaic Gates said he is “intent on making San Marino High School a great place to learn for our 1,041 students.”

“We have a community that supports us like no other, and that is real,” he said.

Gates also mentioned the school’s plan to hold another active shooter drill and stated the value of the exercise. He acknowledged an award given to SMHS by the Joint Powers Insurance Agency for its Titan Wellness Center and praised Bonnie Hanson for a SMARTS summer school program she initiated.

“SMARTS, as in San Marino ARTS,” Gates quipped.

The board also approved a modified meeting schedule for the 2019-20 school year.

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