• Superintendent's Blog

    March 6, 2018

    As many of you are aware, over the past few weeks, there has been a nationwide movement to encourage student walkouts to protest gun violence in schools.  In Petaluma City Schools, our goal is to provide guidance on how students can safely navigate civic engagement while respecting other students’ rights to hold an opposing viewpoint on this issue.

    To that end, each school site will be communicating with school student leaders to ensure all students’ First Amendment Rights and safety are given the highest priority. We want to show our students that they do have a role to play in our democratic process and that their voices matter-- so long as they do so in a safe and constructive way.

    Each school site will work with interested students to create a forum for discussion on this issue and will set a date and time for this forum to take place.  It is our hope that both site and district staff as well as other community stakeholders might be available to participate. This can take place either during school hours or afterschool.

    It is anticipated that some students may walk out of class for 17 minutes on March 14th as a peaceful protest of the lives lost in the Parkland shooting. Students who choose to participate in the protest will be marked absent during the period of the time they are not in class. If there are no education code violations (e.g. vandalism, harassment) no disciplinary consequences will be issued.  Site and district administrative staff will ensure supervision of any peaceful protest.  Teachers with classes will remain in class and continue teaching those not participating. Students will be responsible for any classwork missed during any school day demonstration.

    It is important that we respect the rights of all students and that no student feels pressured to either protest or not protest.  For other potential protest dates that have been suggested via the media, we will be working with students on a school-specific solution that ensures we both utilize school time wisely and support their concerns on this issue.

    More specific site information will be provided by your school’s principal.

     

    March 1, 2018

    We hope and trust that nothing like the Parkland School Shooting ever happens in our Petaluma schools.   However, since we can never be 100% certain of the future, it is important that we take safety measures seriously and practice what to do in the event of an emergency.  Ensuring staff have training on emergencies as well as educating all stakeholders on what to do in an urgent situation are part of today’s world. We work hard on every campus to keep our emergency protocols, drills, and communication systems tested and sharp so that we can respond appropriately and effectively in the event of an urgent situation.

    In the next few weeks, we will be covering a number of areas within our PCS Quick Response Guide with all school site students and staff.  In addition, we will be reviewing and reinforcing ingress and egress procedures for visitors to each PCS campus. As we move through the campus modernization process, we will be identifying facility improvements (i.e. communications network, security locks, ingress/egress plans) that may be necessary to improve safety.

    Petaluma City Schools implements a number of critical practices in the area of school safety.  They include, but are not limited to, the following:

    • School Safety Plans: California Education Code and Board Policy require that all school sites must maintain a comprehensive safety plan to ensure that students and staff are safe and secure on campus and are free from physical or psychological harm.  Each school year, the District Office staff works closely with all school sites to update their plans, support safety drills, and implement emergency procedures.  
    • Police Partnership: PCS partners with local police officials on training activities at our school sites so law enforcement is familiar with our campuses, procedures, and personnel. Petaluma Police Department has been outstanding in the response times and proactive services provided to our schools.
    • Social-Emotional Supports: The school district crisis and prevention team and school counselors support students who may be struggling with anxiety or mental health needs. In certain cases,  we also partner with community health services to connect students and families with available support for social-emotional and other non-instructional issues.
    • Awareness and Education: School staff work every day to support students with academic and social-emotional issues. However, we also encourage parents to speak to their children about how we can treat one another with kindness and compassion and discuss ways that they can provide peer support.  When a child suspects a friend is in danger to themselves or to others, we need students to report this to a trusted adult or if they are in junior high or high school to share their information with a trusted adult or anonymously through the StopIt app.

    These are just some of the examples of the work we conduct and support at our sites. Find out more about what is happening on your school campus by attending a PTA or Site Council meeting or by contacting your school office. We encourage students, employees, family members, and others within our school community to continue asking questions and seeking support.

    Lastly, we are working with school principals to determine how we will address potential student marches and protests surrounding school safety.  It will be our goal to work with our youth to ensure they are both attending classes throughout the District and that their voices are heard on the issue.  More information will be provided following site administrators meetings scheduled for early next week.

     

    May 2, 2017

    On behalf of the entire District, I want to thank you for your patience and understanding during these recent teacher labor negotiations. To date, over 30 tentative agreements have been reached between both parties and we are continuing to meet on proposals.  Accordingly, the District is committed to maintaining three important principles throughout this process:

    1. Ensuring the student learning environment remains focused on our students.  Employer/employee labor issues need to be addressed outside of the instructional environment.

    2. Ensuring we are attracting and retaining outstanding teachers.  The District has a long-standing contractual agreement with the teacher labor union that teachers will be compensated no lower than the average of 5 neighboring school districts  (Cotati-Rohnert Park, Novato, Santa Rosa, Sonoma Valley, and Windsor). This takes place regardless of the outcome of negotiations.  Every year, the District must compare salaries provided by the 5 neighboring districts.  In any given year if our teachers fall below the 50th percentile, as measured against their counterparts, the District must automatically and retroactively increase salaries.   

      That being said, we will continue to do everything in our power to support on-going salary increases that are beyond the contract requirements while not impacting student programs or the District’s financial stability.

    3. Ensuring we eliminate the structural budget deficit.

    Working with our amazing teachers, we will continue to negotiate in good faith, honor the commitments set forth above, and continue to build Petaluma City Schools reputation as one of North Bay’s finest school districts.

    To provide more details about negotiations, we have created a Negotiations Page on our website. 

    Lastly, I would like to share some resources related to the budget challenges caused by increases to district pension contributions: Pension Cost Concerns.

     

    April 5, 2017

    Today at school sites throughout the District, leaflets were passed out titled “Support Our Students, Support Our Teachers.”   As parents and community members of Petaluma, I want to provide you some context to this leaflet and critical information you should know on this issue.

    Petaluma City Schools is 100% committed to working towards maintaining competitive compensation for all employees.  We do not believe in an “Us” versus “Them” model for any employee group and have worked hard to build consensus around this concept.  There are four important points that I want all parents and community members to know:

      1. Everyone in the District wants to increase compensation for all staff.  
      2. All stakeholders must understand the importance of eliminating our structural budget deficit so we can redirect future revenue increases towards our most valued professionals.  
      3. District leadership has committed to making staff compensation for all employees the first significant expense priority once the structural deficit is addressed.
      4. The Board, District, administration, teachers, and classified staff members are not directly responsible for the creation of this deficit.  

    We must eliminate our structural deficit (on-going expenses greater than revenues) of approximately $1.5 million over the next two years.  Our Board, Superintendent, and Chief Business Official cannot sign off on a positive budget to the Sonoma County Office of Education until the deficit is addressed.  State regulations require that we cannot offer compensation without the revenue to support it.

    The main contributing factor to the deficit is that school districts throughout the state are facing fiscal challenges due to an unanticipated increase of District pension costs ($825,000 in 2016-17, $1,600,000 in 2017-18 and $2,400,000 in 2018-19). It is important to note that the State of California unilaterally imposed these costs onto school districts to keep the employee pension systems solvent.

    The good news is that the District has made great progress towards reducing the deficit, but has more work to do.  With the education of our students as our top priority, we will strive to make thoughtful budget decisions without sacrificing quality in program.  Also, we have asked all bargaining units to join us in working with legislators in Sacramento to address the statewide pension issue.  

    In the meantime, I want to encourage any parents and community members to attend our regular Budget Advisory Committee meetings who are actively working towards addressing the budget issues.  The next meeting is April 20, 2017 at 3:30 p.m. in the Board Room. We will also be presenting information at the next School Board meeting on April 11, 2017.  The budget presentation is not anticipated to begin until after 6:45 p.m.

    I hope this information helps you to better understand our situation.  It is only together that we will be able to effectively meet this challenge.

    For more information on the pension relief crisis, I encourage you to go to the following link from the California School Boards Association:

    http://blog.csba.org/storm-relief-needed-for-pension-increase-crisis/

    February 28, 2017

    At our second interim report, we will be restating to the Board the need to move the District out of five consecutive years of deficit spending.  We are required to file two reports to the County, Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Controller on whether or not we are able to meet our financial obligations. The certifications are classified as positive, qualified, or negative. A positive certification is assigned when the district will meet its financial obligations for the current and two subsequent fiscal years. A qualified certification is assigned when the district may not meet its financial obligations for the current or two subsequent fiscal years. A negative certification is assigned when a district will be unable to meet its financial obligations for the remainder of the current year or for the subsequent fiscal year. Our goal is to stay out of qualified or negative status.

    Here is a link to a report sent to me today from School Services that highlights the increase of school districts in negative and qualified status:

    2016-17 First Interim Report Negative and Qualified Certifications 

    You will see in the report that district movement into negative status is "likely due in part to the compounding increases for the employer contributions to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS)."  

    Fortunately, our situation will require some budget cuts but is much more manageable.   I hope this information answers some of the questions I have received.                  

    February 13, 2017

    Our Commitment To Our Students

    I am so proud of the hard work taking place throughout our schools to ensure safe, secure, and meaningful learning environments for all students.  Without question, many changes are under speculation in the chambers of Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, but I am confident that the collective work of our staff will continue to create inclusive school environments for Every Family that enters our doors. 

    We understand it is our responsibility to not only teach students the tools necessary to be college and career ready (to be effective communicators - to be critical thinkers and problem solvers - to be collaborators), but to also model the basic core values of honesty, respect, tolerance, and community.

    Families in Petaluma City Schools are in good hands.  We are and will continue to be a District where students come first.

     

    February 1, 2017

    Budget Update #1

    I want to thank all of you for everything you do for our kids and to share with you, in writing, a summary from the collective conversations I have had regarding the State and District school budget. 

    Coming into Petaluma City Schools two years ago, I was fully aware of that, in the absence of any new state monies, budget cuts would be necessary. The District’s operating reserves have been steadily declining over a number of years.  Reduced staff workdays in prior years, modest program cuts, and a spend-down of the District reserves had helped PCS to weather the budget crisis.  In hindsight, additional early program reductions would have been of enormous benefit.  Six successive years of deficit spending took our three year budget below the necessary reserve to be approved by the Sonoma County Office of Education.   

    Our current budget reflects an impressive array of programs and services; resources that are good for kids and help to highlight why Petaluma City Schools is a great place to learn and work.  The budget situation was not created through wasteful spending, but rather an outcome of three significant factors: 

    1. Massive pension cost increases.
    2. Reductions in State funding for Districts like Petaluma - Districts with smaller than average “unduplicated counts.”  Unduplicated students are pupils that fall in either the category of English learners, low income, or foster youth.
    3. Loss of students.  Between 2006 and 2016 Petaluma City Schools experienced a loss of nearly 450 students.  In today’s LCFF funding formula, this equates to an annual loss of approximately $4.2 million.  The rising cost of housing has been cited as a major reason for “family flight” from Petaluma.

    Our charge is to eliminate the deficit spending and keep our budget in State compliance with a positive certification. Based on data from the Multi-year projections presented in our First Interim Report (December 2016), to accomplish this will require an elimination of a deficit of $1,954,000 in 2017-18 and $2,114,919 in 2018-19.   I believe it is important to make every effort to minimize the impact of any budgetary reductions on our service to students. Throughout this process, I have asked staff to keep this enduring principle at the forefront of our work.  To date, we have identified $1,153,500 of initial cuts and revenue enhancements to reduce this deficit.  Significant District-level staff cuts have been identified in addition to a commitment to supporting staff-to-formula models.  Restricted bond financing and energy savings will also support these efforts. 

    These initial cuts bring the deficit down to $800,607 in 2017-18 and $961,419 in 2018-19 respectively.   Moving forward, we are looking at the following areas to reduce this gap even further: 

    1. Transportation costs/Infrastructure
    2. Certificated/Classified Staffing Ratios
    3. Efficiency analysis - District level/site level expenses 

    We will be working with the Board, District Leadership, District Budget Advisory Council, Bargaining Units, and other stakeholders throughout this process. I want to encourage any District employee who wishes to participate in the Budget Advisory Council to come and be part of the meeting discussions.  I have attached a link to their meeting dates here:  Budget Advisory Council Meetings 

    As a District, we understand the importance of eliminating the structural deficit so we can focus future new monies towards staff compensation.  We are in the process of sharing this commitment with our bargaining units as well as the commitment to make staff compensation our first significant expense priority once this deficit is addressed.  I am confident we will be successful in our endeavor and encourage all stakeholders to become involved and knowledgeable about the District budget. 

    I am hopeful that speaking to all of you directly and reaffirming the District’s commitment towards making compensation a priority goal provides you with additional clarity on this issue. Thank you again for meeting with me at your schools over the past couple of months and for your willingness to be transparent about your school and community.  I am always available to chat and will continue to provide you with direct communication as this process evolves.

     

    January 24, 2017

    When you get a moment, please take a minute to watch the video we created to highlight one of our outstanding teachers, Jessica Dennen.  I think the video will tell you everything you need to know about this special educator.  She is a shining example of the type of teacher you will find leading and guiding our amazing students! 

    Jessica Dennen Video - Click Here

     

    December 15, 2016

    Take a look of what one of our Petaluma City Schools Alumni, Anthony Bordessa - Owner of Washoe Valley Duck Eggs, has done to transfer the skills he learned through FFA and the Agriculture program into a thriving business.  Well done Anthony!   

    Sonoma Farm Bureau Article

     

    November 1, 2016

    This year it is my goal to focus on a systems approach to district-wide improvement.  The areas shared below have been developed from collaboration with staff, students, parents, and the Board of Trustees and are reflected at all levels in the organization 

    Specifically, a systems approach impacts four areas:

    1.  A System of Communication - Integrated Communication System
    •  An integrated system connects web, social media, phone, print, and intra/interpersonal communications platforms into a coordinated plan.
    1.  A System of Fiscal and Asset Accountability
    • PCS is looking to continuously improve how we manage and track our assets, ensuring balanced multi-year budgets.
    1.  A System of Building Professional Capacity
    • This year I am working closely with District Leadership to ensure all administrative team members receive the professional development they need to further develop professional capacity throughout Petaluma City Schools.
    1.  A System of Increasing College and Career Readiness
    • We are invested in continuing to expand systems that support an increase in college and career preparedness.