WATSONVILLE—Pajaro Valley Unified School District students will wait at least two extra months to return to their classrooms, the district’s trustees unanimously voted Wednesday.

The district was planning to begin a hybrid version of in-person learning starting in January, but a recent surge of Covid-19, and the subsequent tightening of restrictions imposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Nov. 16, prompted the district to push that date to March.

The trustees will meet in early 2021 to evaluate whether it is safe to return at that time, Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez said.

Trustee Jennifer Holm, a registered nurse who also teaches nursing at Cabrillo College, said the plan will help both the educational and the medical community grapple with the crisis.

“Our healthcare professionals are exhausted,” she said. “Our ICU beds are filling up. Our emergency departments are overwhelmed. And I’m a parent of a child who is struggling in this mode. I’m also an educator who is having to adjust. It’s hard.”

Holm added that safety must be a priority, despite the hardships that come from the restrictions.

“It’s having an impact on everyone,” she said. “But as a nurse, you have to prioritize things.”

Trustee Georgia Acosta agreed, and said that weathering the pandemic will require that everyone complies with safety protocols such as wearing a mask and social distancing.

“First and foremost the health and safety and wellbeing of the public has to come first,” she said. “We understand the need to get back to the classroom. But the plea to the public is that we need to ask you to be socially responsible.”

Trustee Jennifer Schacher pointed to recent data that shows 250,000 students and school staff infected with Covid-19.

“The myth that Covid that does not spread through schools, and that it’s safe to come back to school, is just that: it’s a myth,” she said. “And I as a trustee am not willing to put our staff and our students and our community at risk by making a decision to bring them back into classrooms when we do not know what the effect will be.”

GRIM FINANCIAL PICTURE 

The trustees also heard a budget report that shows the district may not be able to meet its financial obligations for the next three years, thanks to declining enrollment, a drop in revenue from the state and increased health care costs.

According to PVUSD Director of Fiscal Services Colleen Bugayong, the district could see a $3.2 million shortfall in its required 3% budget reserve by the 2022-23 school year. If that happens, and if the district is unable to meet its expenses for three years in future years, the district faces the possibility of state intervention. 

Under state law, school districts must file their first interim budget report—a look at finances from July 1 through Oct. 31—by Dec. 15. Those reports must include projections for the current year and the following two years.

Bugayong says that enrollment will drop by 387 students next year, and another 380 in the 2022-23 school year. This means that per-pupil funding from the state will go down along with the declining enrollment, even though costs will stay the same.

It is unclear what financial impact the decline will have, although the bad news was tempered with the possibility of good news, Bugayong said. 

If the higher-than-average tax revenue continues, she said, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office is projecting additional revenue of $14.7 billion dollars, some of which could go to schools.

“There are good possibilities down the road,” she said. 

The district’s financial picture will be clearer in January, when Newsom releases the state’s budget revision.

NEW LEADERSHIP 

In other action, the trustees approved the contract for the district’s new Chief Business Officer (CBO), a position vacated when Joe Dominguez left in the summer.

Clinton Rucker has been with the district for six years, most recently as Director of Administrative Services, and has always worked directly under the CBO. He has been supporting the business office for the past six months, Rodriguez said.

His appointment came after three rounds of recruitment starting in July and lasting through early December. He does not hold a master’s degree, which was formerly a requirement for the position.

“That allowed us to broaden the applicant pool,” Rodriguez said. 

The item passed 4-3, with trustees Daniel Dodge Jr., Georgia Acosta and Jennifer Schacher dissenting.

Rodriguez pointed out that district officials named Rucker as their top choice.

“For me he’s proven over the past several years that he is qualified,” she said. “He has been the person I go to whenever I have concerns about current numbers.”

A CBO is a cabinet member who oversees all aspects of Business Services including finance, purchasing, payroll, transportation, food services, maintenance and operations, facilities and risk management.

Rucker will earn a salary of $155,033. His former position will be eliminated, saving the district $120,000 annually, Rodriguez said.

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