Catalina Foothills to mesh plan with budget, bonds - The Explorer: Import

Catalina Foothills to mesh plan with budget, bonds

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Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 12:00 am | Updated: 7:49 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Jan. 12, 2005 - In governing boards, as in baseball, the follow-through is as important as the swing.

The Catalina Foothills School District was up to bat in 2004 when it set out to create a revised strategic plan and when it proposed two ballot initiatives.

The five-member board was pitched a strategic plan, which was ratified Dec. 14 after three public meetings.

Both bond initiatives the district proposed also passed in the Nov. 2 election. Proposition 403 sought a maximum of $18.81 million in bonds relating to the construction and improvement of school facilities; it passed with more than 73 percent of the vote. Proposition 404, which passed with 54 percent, provides eight years of annual $600,000 budget overrides to state-funded capital improvement projects.

Now the board is left to follow through on the strategic plan while staying within the confines of what could be a very tight budgeting season, plus spend the money it raised through the two bonds.

The governing board- comprised of the same members following the November reelection of 2004 board president Carol Siegler and member Alice Catallini - was set to begin the 2005-2006 school year budget process Jan. 11.

Balancing finances with the ideals of the strategic plan is a task several members say they are anticipating.

The plan is helpful because it gives the governing board direction when it comes to allocating funding, according to Catallini.

"It really does empower us to say 'these are our priorities, this is what should be the priority in the classroom, this is what should be the priority in the governing board room where we set policy.' And when we set budget it needs to focus on what the strategic plan has said is the priority," she said.

The strategic plan is broken into three main components:

€ Refine and prioritize Catalina Foothills School District curriculum benchmarks, create shared understanding of those benchmarks and develop common assessments to measure progress and guide instruction.

€ Create a professional development system that ensures all staff use effective instructional strategies, including the use of technology, to actively engage all students in achieving the district's mission and objectives.

€ Identify, teach, model and assess the character attributes necessary for everyone to exemplify responsible citizenship.

This strategic plan, which will be in place through 2009, differs from its predecessor - the district's first strategic plan - in its "refinement," Siegler said.

"In our eagerness several years ago, we just had too many things to focus on," she said, including creating a kindergarten-through-12th-grade curriculum and districtwide standards and benchmarks.

Catallini added: "Now our task is to prioritize and refine what we have in place [in the] curriculum and make sure we are teaching what's required for the 21st century and … that it's appropriate for the different children."

But before the governing board can take any action relating to the strategic plan, it must pass through a protocol.

The three components of the plan will each go to a separate committee.

From there it "goes on timelines and assigned … to administrators and they set up their committees, so anything specific that would be coming out of that is yet to come," Richerson said.

Deciding on what areas the plan should focus was the result of another months-long process which Siegler said included brainstorming sessions with administrators and the governing board, strategic planning teams that involved administrators as well as parents, teachers and community members; and several public meetings.

Getting the Catalina Foothills district to the point where it had a plan to enact has been difficult, added governing board member Mary Lou Richerson.

"It's really an exciting time, as opposed to six months ago when we were hoping it was going to be an exciting time, but there was a lot of work ahead in terms of getting the ballot issues passed and the strategic plan in place and all of that. So now it should be the fun time where we get to enact all of the things that have been passed and the plans that have been made."

During 2004, the governing board also spent significant time working on two ballot initiatives which eventually would pass in the Nov. 2 election.

These initiatives will add $19.4 million to the district's coffers to be used for construction and maintenance.

The money may not seem necessary from the exterior, Siegler said, but is needed all the same.

"Anybody driving through would say, 'Gosh, you've got the newest school in town,' and that would pretty much be true," she said. However, she said the Prop 404 capital override money will be used "for things that don't last 15 or 20 years - computers, technology, books."

The Prop 405 money will go for larger-scale projects such as creating a band room at Orange Grove Middle School, expanding Catalina Foothills High School and building a new preschool at Sunrise and Skyline to replace the one adjacent to the high school, which Siegler said was not built to be used as a school.

Catallini also noted the bond money does not solve all of the school's financial problems.

"Budget is always our toughest discussion," she said. "Having last year being a relatively smooth budget year, this one will be particularly tough because I think our community and our parents felt like things are smoothing over."

One of the biggest hurdles will be adjustments to the teacher retirement system, she said.

"Unfortunately the last two times it's been reevaluated there's been significant increases both times," Catallini continued. "So if we do have any kind of increases, there isn't any way by the fact that (teachers) have to increase their contributions to the retirement system.

"The increases have come, my understanding is, that 50 percent of it as a result of the market, the return on the investment that the retirement system is experiencing over the last few years. But the other 50 percent is attributed to increases in benefits that the legislature has granted to the system. That means, yes, it is a better retirement system, better benefits, but we're paying for them pretty dearly right now so that makes it tough," she said.

But all of the board members contacted for this story expressed relief at the passage of the bonds and the financial support of the district's booster group.

"In the long run, we're getting it done but it's a struggle sometimes. … We just keep spinning the plates here internally and we keep everything on track and hope that those external forces let up a little bit and the pocketbook gets a little looser," Richerson said.

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