The Walnut Valley Unified School District plans to host two budget workshops for the community.
The district has set the meetings for Jan. 22 and Jan. 24, one at Diamond Bar High and the other at Walnut High.
The forums come at a time when the district is under intense pressure to close a $4.7 million budget gap this year. In December, Walnut Valley Unified submitted what is called a negative certification with the Los Angeles County Office of Education. A negative certification means that a district will be unable to meet its financial obligations for this year and the next.
“This is the first time ever for Walnut Valley and it’s sad,” said Colleen Patterson, the outgoing interim assistant superintendent of budget services. “You’ve hit your own personal fiscal cliff.”
Patterson pointed to deferred money totaling $22.2 million this year alone that the state owes the district as one of the chief reasons the district is fiscally in the hole.
Board Member Phillip Chen said last month that the district isn’t alone when it comes to facing a budget crunch.
“We have to tighten our belts,” he said. “It’s the financial reality that we’re in. More than 80 percent of school districts are in financial turmoil.”
Superintendent Dean Conklin has said that with 90 percent of the budget going for personnel costs, some cuts need to be made in that area. He has proposed that employees take six furlough days and nine for each of the two subsequent years. The district had a press conference last month as well, outlining budget concerns and a plan to close the shortfall, including the furlough proposal.
The leadership of the Walnut Valley Educators' Association, which represents the teachers and other certified employees, has said that furlough days are a temporary fix, not the long-term structural deficit solution needed.
The disagreement over furlough days prompted the district to bring in a mediator. Mediation began last week.
“What the district has done is asked to go through the impasse process because of its inability to solve the deficit (issue),” WVEA President Larry Taylor said last month. “We’re willing to work with them, but we’re concerned with the impact of furlough days on the students.”
Complicating matters for some is Conklin’s recent announcement that he plans to retire at the end of the school year.
Taylor said, following the announcement, that he felt Conklin’s decision to retire would affect negotiations.
He said he feels Conklin has taken a hard line and hasn’t been as collaborative during talks in the last couple of years.
“I would hope that the board would bring in a new superintendent who is willing to work with the teachers’ organization, not just on our employee contract but to build up a multi-year (budget) plan,” he said.
Board President Helen Hall said recently that the district would start to talk about finding a replacement for Conklin this month. The process of recruiting usually takes two or three months, so the district has time, Hall said.
Conklin’s planned retirement won’t affect negotiations, she said.
“We will continue to negotiate in good faith with all of our bargaining units,” she said. “It won’t hurt or slow the process. With the challenges we have, Dean is the best person to help us to meet those challenges and to help us move forward.”
Critics of the district speculate on how the superintendent’s departure would negatively affect the budget. In August 2010, the district reportedly fired former Superintendent Cyndy Simms and had to pay out the remainder of her contract totaling around $300,000.
Hall said that Conklin has a three-year contract, which gives the board the option annually of rolling it over for another year.
“You don’t have to pay the remainder of the difference (in the contract) when they retire versus when you ask a superintendent to leave,” she said.
COMMUNITY BUDGET MEETINGS:
Diamond Bar High School - Performing Arts Center/Theater, 21400 E. Pathfinder Road
Date: Tuesday, Jan. 22
Time: 6 p.m.
Walnut High School - Performing Arts Center/Theater, 400 N. Pierre Road
Date: Thursday, Jan. 24
Time: 6 p.m.