Board gets new member

By Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat December 11, 2012 12:07 pm

The Tuolumne County Board of Education swore in a new member Monday, got an update on state policy and heard a budget report that gave a largely favorable forecast for the county schools office.  

At the opening of Monday’s meeting, Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Donald Segerstrom administered an oath of office to new Board of Education member Don Rolle, who served on the Sonora Elementary School District Board of Trustees for 11 years. 

 

Rolle taught at Sonora Elementary School for 35 years and helped educate a number of current Tuolumne County teachers and administrators. He still works as a substitute teacher. 

Returning Tuolumne County Board of Education members Joe von Herrmann and Juliana Feriani also took oaths from Segerstrom on Monday. Like Rolle, they were unchallenged for their seats and did not appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. 

The board later recognized outgoing member Sherri Brennan for her nine years of service from 2003-12. Segerstrom, himself a former Board of Education member, spoke about the value of the job.  

“It’s one of the best things that you can do for your community...because there’s nothing more important than the education of our kids, and making sure that our educational system works well,” Segerstrom said. 

Sonora Union High School District, Columbia Union School District and Calaveras Unified School District are all swearing in their new board members today.

Countywide boards of education frequently discuss state policy as it applies to their region.

Office of Ed budget

The Tuolumne County Board of Education got a presentation Monday from Tami Ethier, the county school office’s assistant superintendent for business services, on proposed changes to California’s education funding model. 

Many Tuolumne and Calaveras county school superintendents became concerned this year when Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a “weighted” formula for doling out per-pupil funding. 

The formula would have channeled more funding to students who receive free and reduced-price school meals or are learning English. 

The Mother Lode has a large population of students receiving free or reduced-price school meals but a very small population of English learners, meaning that its schools would have lost funding under the proposal. 

Ethier said the proposal is being revised, but rural counties like Tuolumne County have not been well-represented in recent state meetings to discuss them. 

In a budget report for the Tuolumne County Office of Education for the first part of the 2012-13 fiscal year, Ethier noted that state funding for education is still “volatile.” 

The Office of Education will benefit from the passage of Proposition 30 and the anticipated receipt of about $108,000 in federal forest reserve funding. 

The funding, which helps support schools and public projects in counties with large tracts of untaxed U.S. Forest Service land, in March was reauthorized for one year by the U.S. Senate.

It is distributing about $1 million in funding to Tuolumne County schools and $87,000 to schools in Calaveras County. 

The Tuolumne County Office of Education encountered a setback this year when it lost $30,000 in funding from a federal grant that helped transport homeless students to school. 

Tuolumne County Deputy Superintendent of Schools Margie Bulkin said the grants became much more difficult to obtain this year. 

The absence of grant money, which flowed through the county schools office, leaves school districts to pay extra costs associated with homeless students. 

Ethier said the county schools office will collect about $9 million in revenues this year and spend slightly more, but the additional spending comes from funds collected last year.

Silva retirement

The Board of Education on Monday continued its discussion of a proposal by Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Joe Silva to “retire” and be reappointed at a much lower salary. 

The proposal encountered opposition from the California teachers’ pension system, which said Silva could not retire and work at a lower salary without also reducing his pension. 

Silva’s annual salary is almost $170,000, not including a $7,200 business allowance or health benefits. The pension combined with his reduced salary would put his annual earnings at somewhere around $190,000.

The Board of Education was set to approve Silva’s plan to lower his salary on the grounds that it would save the county schools office money, since the county pays his salary but not his pension. 

However, Silva later scrapped the plan after determining that the resulting legal costs could outweigh the savings to the county schools office created by the lowered salary. 

The Board of Education and staff members from the county schools office reiterated their support of Silva on Monday. Silva was unable to attend the meeting due to illness, according to Bulkin. 

“The … thing that the public doesn’t understand is that Joe hasn’t done anything wrong,” said Danna Fritz, the Tuolumne County Office of Education’s Director of Human Resources. “Everything about his salary has been completely above board … he’s worked his way up.”

Byron Smith, the Sonora-based attorney who advises several Tuolumne and Calaveras county school districts, affirmed that Silva no longer plans to pursue the proposal.