(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 second of three parts of the interview.)

Do you see HUSD”s growth (student population) picking up soon?

Expecting enrollment to remain relatively flat, Kayrell expressed disappointment that the student population had declined at the beginning of the school year.

“I hoped there would be some increase after Labor Day,” he said, “but we’re down about 500 kids. That hurt us.”

In school districts, state funding is distributed on a per-student basis. If enrollment declines, funding from the state also will fall.

A 500-student drop could cost HUSD about $2.5 million. Consequently, HUSD chose to eliminate seven temporary teaching positions to mitigate the potential funding loss.

Kayrell and Scavarda both attributed the student decline to the weak economy. Working parents are still moving to areas with greater employment opportunities, they said.

“We have about 87 percent of the population eligible for free or reduced meals,” Kayrell said. “That’s a very telling statistic. We serve more than 21,000 meals per day — breakfast and lunches.”

“There are a lot of hungry kids,” Scavarda added.
Having completed Tahquitz High School and remodeled Hemet High School, do you foresee the need for any major capital investments in the next five years?

“We have a proposal for total modernization of Acacia Middle School,” Kayrell replied. “We’re not quite a year into construction yet.”

The school’s new gymnasium is completed, and work on classrooms and offices is beginning, he added.

“But most capital projects are usually growth-based,” Kayrell said. “Since there’s no growth, no plans currently.”

However, HUSD is considering modernizing Hemet Elementary School. “But that is very complex since the ground is sinking,” he said. “But it’s a beautiful property.”

“Most of our growth is in the west end of the district,” Kayrell stated. “We’ll have a need for another elementary school west of Harmony, near Winchester or further west.” Development along and near the Domenigoni Parkway is driving the need for the elementary school. But it will take several years to plan and to complete.
When do the union contracts expire? In this fiscal climate, will you offer teachers pay increases?

All of HUSD’s employee contracts have expired, Kayrell said. “While the contracts are open, we’re in the midst of negotiating with several groups, including the Hemet Education Association and other employees. Every single contract is wide open,” the superintendent said.

“Optimistically, we will be able to offer raises,” Kayrell speculated. “There have been no raises for a long time and cuts for many years.” HUSD has already restored furlough days.

“That was well warranted,” Kayrell stressed. “With the new [state funding] formula there will be new money coming into the district and the unions know that.”

Kayrell added that the district’s benefit package, which he considers very critical, will be affected by the new health care legislation and this will have an impact on all employees, not just teachers.

Besides salary levels, Scavarda added that retuning work hours, such as for librarians, has and will be beneficial. “With Common Core standards, there will be more emphasis on research.”

Librarian work schedules for kindergatern through eighth grade have been fully restored and the district is working on the secondary school librarian hours, according to Kayrell.