San Dieguito board approves independent reviews of finances, organizational structure

The exterior of the San Dieguito Union High School District office in Encinitas.
The exterior of the San Dieguito Union High School District office in Encinitas.
(Karen Billing)

At new San Dieguito Union High School Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward’s first meeting on Nov. 8, the board made several moves pointed toward improving the district’s efficiency and financial health, approving agreements with School Services of California and the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assessment Team.

The agreement with School Services of California, not to exceed $53,000, will provide the board with an organizational review of the administrative positions in the district office, including a comparative analysis of the administrative staffing and organizational structure of comparable school districts.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Tina Douglas was supportive of the third-party review to increase administrative efficiency and help align the district’s organization with the vision of the superintendent and the board.

The second approved independent agency, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assessment Team (FCMAT), can help a school district avert fiscal crisis, promote sound financial practices and help create efficient organizational operations, according to the superintendent’s report.

“As you all know we are running at a deficit and to help us address some of these issues,” Ward said of the district’s 2021-22 budget that projects $13 million in deficit spending. “FCMAT is the best in the business.”

Douglas concurred that FCMAT are experts on school business finances and are the only agency the district would consider to do this work. To determine efficiency, Douglas said FCMAT would conduct a financial risk analysis, review the district’s 2021-22 first interim budget and prepare independent multi-year projections, giving suggestions on where they might tighten up the budget to reduce deficit spending. The board approved costs for the work not to exceed $33,000.

“It’s very important we get our fiscal health in order,” said Trustee Michael Allman in his support of the contract.

Trustee Katrina Young said while she could see value in the work, she voted against both contracts in the interest of transparency. Her preference was to wait for the regular board meeting on Nov. 18 as she did not believe there was adequate time to review the contracts or for stakeholders to participate in a special meeting held at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning.

Ward said one of the reasons to quickly move forward was because full contract negotiations begin next month with the San Dieguito Faculty Association and California School Employees Association.

“We need information about our fiscal solvency sooner rather than later and that is the only reason it has been put on this special meeting agenda,” Ward said.

At the meeting, Young also voted against the approval of a contract with Littler Mendelson to provide legal representation in the areas of labor and employment law. Young, as well as one public commenter, was critical that a global firm was not qualified to meet their needs and was “grossly overpriced” at three times the cost of the district’s current law firms with hourly rates as $475 to $624 for senior counsel.

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Olga West said the firm is qualified and comes highly recommended. Ward said the firm will be used to ensure the board understands labor negotiations and that the attorney will not be involved in day-to-day operations or involved in negotiations.

“This is the most important decision that you will make this year in terms of contract negotiations,” Ward said. “There’s nothing more important than having the best information and advice because one of your primary duties is to ensure fiscal solvency of the San Dieguito Union High School District.”