Larry Miles

Larry reading with kids.(Please see Lawrence Miles, AV Rated for bio on Mr. Miles.  This article is about Larry’s service as a San Juan School Board Trustee from 2004in 2004 and re-elected in 2008.  He served two terms as Board President.  Larry wrote this article in 2005.  In 2010, the District, like all California school districts, faced financial stress.  Larry has since continued his involvement with public education as Executive Producer of Inside California Education.)

As many of you know, I was elected to the San Juan Unified School Board last December.  The San Juan Unified School District is about the 11th largest in the state, with about 45,000 students and over 48 schools.  The school district serves suburban Sacramento County, including parts of Sacramento county and communities like Arden Arcade, Carmichael, Citrus Heights, and Orangevale.

I knew the District had challenges when I decided to run for the Board.  It didn’t disappoint.

Our very first meeting after we were sworn in last December, the Board voted to make the District “Qualified” under new financial laws governing school districts.  This is a short step from a “Negative” determination, and possible insolvency.  The vote was made necessary by a projected $19 million deficit in the 05-06 budget.  As new Board members, we didn’t get much of a honeymoon.

Among the many issues we faced were the following:

*  Unfairs.  Early on, I urged that we settle unfair labor practice charges filed against the district by all three of its employee unions arising out of furloughs that had previously been imposed. I urged the settlements because employee relations were strained, and the unions and district had been at bargaining impasse, for over 9 months in the case of teachers.   We settled these accusations using creative ways to restore some of the work furlough days.

*  Negotiations.  The settlement of the unfairs helped create a more favorable employee climate, which was critical because the District was in the midst of negotiating contracts with all of its employee groups.  Although it was unusual, the situation dictated that I join the District team at the bargaining table in negotiations with teachers.  Over a two month period of intense negotiations, we broke through impasse, avoided a strike, and arrived at contracts that resulted in almost $5 million in savings.

*  School Closures.  There were parallel major issues ongoing during the negotiations.  To help close the $19M deficit, we initiated a review of schools.  In a very painful decision, I voted, along with my colleagues, to close two elementary very good schools.  Hundreds of parents protested the decision.

*  Restorations.  The combination of aggressive budget cuts, including cutting $1 million out of our bus schedules, changing school start times, school closures, and successful contract negotiations allowed us to restore some cuts that would have been devastating, such as high school athletics, K-3 class-size reduction, and high school counselors.

New Superintendent

All of the above and much more, including helping to select a new Superintendent, reading to first graders, speaking at high school graduations, celebrating the success of special education students, enjoying student concerts and sports events, and the like, have marked my first 7 months as a Board member.

For those who have kept up in the news, you know that these are tough times in California, especially in K-12 education.  In our own District, our year would not have been nearly as difficult had we received $13 million from the state which ordinarily would have been due under Prop 98.  In addition to the short funding, the Governor sought to transfer to local school districts the state’s share of teacher pensions, a hit of $3.4 million which we had to reserve in our  budget.  (That transfer was finally taken off the table in July, but it caused us to make draconian cuts in order to achieve a balanced budget.)

Public Education

We start a new school year in a few weeks.  It, too, will be a tough year.  However, amidst all the challenges, I am imbued with the fervent belief that this is important work we adults do—taking care of our young children, giving them a future, providing for the core values of a great society.  I often worry that the public does not fully understand the challenges facing public schools these days.  We have over 27 languages spoken in our district.  It is the American Dream being incubated every day.

This is important stuff.



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