At the first meeting of new San Dieguito Union High School Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward on Nov. 8, the board took several steps to improve the district’s efficiency and financial health, approving agreements with departments California School Boards and the Fiscal Management and Crisis Assessment Team.
The agreement with School Services of California, which will not exceed $53,000, will provide the board with an organizational review of administrative positions in the district office, including a comparative analysis of the administrative staff and organizational structure of comparable school districts.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, Tina Douglas, supported the third-party review to increase administrative efficiency and help align the district’s organization with the superintendent’s and council’s vision.
The second approved independent agency, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assessment Team (FCMAT), can help a school district avoid fiscal crisis, promote sound financial practices, and create effective organizational operations, according to the superintendent’s report.
“As you all know, we’re in deficit and to help address some of these issues,” Ward said of the district’s 2021-22 budget that includes $13 million in deficit spending. “FCMAT is the best in the business.”
Douglas agreed that FCMAT is an expert in school business finances and is the only body the district would consider doing this work. To determine effectiveness, Douglas said FCMAT would conduct a financial risk analysis, review the district’s first draft 2021-22 budget and prepare independent multi-year projections, giving suggestions on where they could tighten the budget to reduce deficit spending. Council approved that the cost of the work not exceed $33,000.
“It’s very important that we get our financial house in order,” administrator Michael Allman said in support of the contract.
Trustee Katrina Young said while she could see value in the work, she voted against both contracts in the interest of transparency. Her preference was to wait until the regular board meeting on November 18 because she did not believe there was enough time to review contracts or for stakeholders to attend a special meeting held at 9:00 a.m. Monday morning.
Ward said one of the reasons for moving quickly was that full contract negotiations would begin next month with the San Dieguito Faculty Association and the California School Employees Association.
“We need information on our fiscal solvency as soon as possible and that’s the only reason it’s been put on the agenda for this special meeting,” Ward said.
At the meeting, Young also voted against approving a contract with Littler Mendelson to provide legal representation in the areas of labor and employment law. Young, as well as a public commentator, criticized that a global firm was not qualified to meet their needs and was “grossly overpriced” at three times the cost of current law firms in the district with rates hours from $475 to $624 for a senior counsel.
Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources Olga West said the company was qualified and highly recommended. Ward said the company will be used to ensure that the board understands labor negotiations and that the lawyer will not be involved in day-to-day operations or involved in negotiations.
“It’s the most important decision you’ll make this year in terms of contract negotiations,” Ward said. “There is nothing more important than having the best information and advice, because one of your main jobs is to ensure the fiscal solvency of the San Dieguito Union School District.”