(Editor’s note: On Tuesday, Sept. 3, Hemet Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Barry Kayrell and Trustee Vic Scavarda of Idyllwild met with the Town Crier to discuss the “State of the District” and trends in the next few years. This is the first of three parts of the interview.)

What is the state of the district?

“Overall it’s very positive. A lot of good things are going on,” Kayrell said, describing the overall conditions of HUSD. “Our financial health is starting to improve. For the first time in seven years, we didn’t have a deficit last year.”

The state’s new funding formula for school districts will be a substantial benefit to HUSD, Kayrell emphasized. “The new formula really helps us out.”

Besides the base grants to districts, the new formula augments state funding for English learners, eligible to receive a free or reduced-price meal and foster youth. Also, if the targeted student population exceeds 55 percent of a district’s enrollment, more funds will be awarded.

The new legislation also requires districts to develop and adopt a plan for how the locally controlled funding will be allocated. Kayrell said his staff is drafting the plan and public comments will be sought later this fall. “This will dictate how we spend this money,” he stressed.

“Great people are teaching our students, which is very important to me,” Kayrell added. “The teaching component makes everything else go smoother.”
What are you goals for this year?

HUSD is implementing the first phase of the new Common Core curriculum, according to Kayrell.

Since 2010, 45 states have adopted the same standards for English and math. These standards are called the Common Core State Standards. These new standards will replace the existing standardized tests. In California, full implementation is expected during the 2014-15 school year, but HUSD is about a year ahead of schedule. Local teachers have been preparing for more than a year.

“The teachers have worked hard to develop these units. They’ve been training for two years,” Kayrell said.

“The shift is already evident,” said Scarvarda, citing the example that English lessons will not just address writing, but how to blog and publish writings to the web.

How do you feel about HUSD’s financial condition?

Kayrell is pleased and optimistic about HUSD’s future finances and the new state funding formula. “The new [funding formula] is based on actual profile of the district,” he said.

“We have a very high population of students who receive free or reduced rate meals,” Kayrell stated. On an average day, the district prepares more than 20,000 breakfasts and lunches for these students.

The newly required spending plans will benefit the district. Since funding for the numerous and various categorical grants is being provided without specific requirements for use, these plans will empower the school board, in Kayrell’s opinion.

Federal Title 1 funds will still be available as a safety net, Scavarda added.

“Still, this is a big change for the school district,” Kayrell emphasized. “We even received $200 per student for Common Core material. This is one time only, but it helps the teachers implement the new curriculum. There are also some additional funds for teacher supplies.”

Besides getting this new funding, Kayrell stressed that HUSD’s financial condition is better than many districts because its salary costs are about 83 percent of the total budget.

“Many other districts are in the range of 85 to 89 percent,” he said. “So we still have a cushion for salaries and benefits.”

This may become important in the next few years as the district implements the Federal Affordable Care Act that will affect employee health benefits.
“Overall, our finances are looking good,” Kayrell said proudly.

Do you see the district adopting teacher pay standards that incorporate student test performances?

“It’s a novel concept. But teachers don’t always control everything for the kids in the classroom,” Kayrell said.

A major problem, according to Kayrell, is how to address special education students. Expecting and rewarding results for them based on the other student population would be difficult.

“It’s hard for them to reach their targets. We’d need rations that work for all people,” he stressed.

Scavarda re-enforced this problem, “My concern is everybody will want the higher-end kids.”

“Yes, we can’t all teach GATE [gifted and talented education] and advanced placement courses,” Kayrell added.