Tri-City Beat: Meet Milt

The Argus Tri-City Beat blog has posted a nice little entry about Milt, the new interim superintendent of FUSD replacing Doug Gephart.

I think having a leader with strong instructional background is crucial, especially with the focus by the state and federal government on testing and accountability. It takes a lot of work and experience to meet the accountability requirements without losing sight of the students.

I first met Milt several years ago when he was principal at Washington High School. I was also on the board when we hired him into his previous role as Assistant Superintendent of Instruction. He was a great choice then and is a great interim choice now.

UPDATE: I wanted to expand on my thoughts a little. Milt is a great interim choice. Stepping into that interim role give the board time to carefully consider how to select the next superintendent and at the same time provides stability and continuity for the district. However, selecting a permanent superintendent requires much more careful evaluation. The board will need to consider how he or she matches the board's vision and goals for the district as well as his or her fit with the staff, parents, community, and students. I talked about this a bit more in my previous post - Superintendent Doug Gephart retires.

Superintendent Doug Gephart retires

As reported in the Argus (Inside Bay Area - NEW: Fremont schools superintendent to retire), today Fremont Unified School District announced that Superintendent Doug Gephart will be retiring at the end of this school year (June 30, 2008). They also named Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Milt Werner the Interim Superintendent for the 2008-09 school year. I want to wish Doug all the best in retirement.

Finding a superintendent is a time consuming and difficult process. The board made the right decision to name Milt as interim superintendent giving them plenty of time to carefully decide how to select the right one. The superintendent is the most important position in a school district and for Fremont is like the CEO of a $270+ million corporation. His or her leadership is crucial. Selecting a superintendent is the most important decision a school board will ever make.

To find the best superintendent you want the best pool of applicants possible. Generally, the best talent will be taken first, so the earlier you start the better. I'm sure the school board will start this process by September if not earlier. Anyone newly elected next fall will have to come up to speed extremely quickly.

I know. I was in that situation when I was appointed to the board in 2006, I got first hand experience negotiating the superintendent's contract and setting his goals. It's not something many people have experience with. At that time I took advantage of the California School Boards Association's resources to help inform me. I also sought advice from two former school district superintendents. WIthout a doubt that information was critical to my decisions, and I would not have been effective without those relationships.

You also must not underestimate the ripple effect a change in leadership has throughout an organization. Milt is an excellent choice and will be a great leader through this changeover. I know the board and the team Doug assembled I know will do a fantastic job guiding FUSD through this transition.

One final note: While we share a similar last name, Doug Gephart and I are not related.

2/13/08 School Board Meeting - BUDGET UPDATE

Here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda and background packet). The board considered several items tonight including the high school course catalog, summer school, and technology-related items, but by far the most important was the 2007-08 and 2008-09 Budget Report.

2007-08 and 2008-09 Budget Report
Assistant Superintendent of Business Bill Stephens in the board agenda item states, "It is the worse budget [the California] education [community] can recall being presented." That summarizes this dire situation well.

There are two aspects.
  1. The governor has declared a financial emergency and called for mid-year budget cuts (including $400 million in statewide education cuts. In the worst case that could mean a $1.3 million cut in Fremont. However, the state analyst believes there are enough categorical funds at the state level to cover these cuts.
  2. Next year's budget -- (2008-09): The state has a deficit of $14.5 billion or more. The cuts proposed to education are enormous -- over $4 billion. Preliminary figures suggest cuts of almost $7 million to Fremont's budget. More details can be found in Mr. Stephens' agenda item which I have attached with my notes from the meeting.

In preparation for this, FUSD has identified $1.6 million dollars that can be saved now mostly from not filling vacant positions. While that is by far the least painful way to save money, it still means there are important services are students aren't getting.

A more detailed list of budget impacts will be presented at the next school board meeting. The Argus also provides a good summary of the steps Fremont and other local school districts are taking to prepare for budget cuts at Inside Bay Area - Fremont schools brace for cuts.

Superintendent Doug Gephart urged everyone to reach out to their legislators now. "Right now it is quiet on this topic in Sacarmento... We can not wait until May. We have to assume the worst case scenario now and get the word out to our legislators." I agree. It is likely that the legislature won't cut education as severely as the governor proposes but it will be a difficult fight in Sacramento. Without a doubt education will be impacted like many programs, but the more we can educate our legislators the better decisions they can make. Instead of a blunt across the board cut in budgets they can be more targeted.

Are these real cuts?
Many parts of the state budget grow each your by a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), which is a figure that accounts for the increase in costs (e.g. rising health insurance, employee salaries, rising energy costs, etc.). So while we call these cuts many are really just a slowing of how much the budget will grow over last year. But the impact of this is still there. If revenues don't keep up with the increase in costs, then valuable programs and services get cut.

However, the governor's education proposal is more than just a slowing; it is a real cut. From the California School Board Association: "Since the Proposition 98 guarantee will grow by less than $4 billion next year, there will be an actual year to year reduction of $865 million."

On the personal side...

Unfortunately, I have a lot of experience dealing with tough school budgets. This is the third time I've seen severe cuts in Fremont education.
  • 1991-92 - As a student board member I had to accept the elimination of counselors among other serious cuts. Some of these cuts have never been restored.
  • 2002-03 and 2003-04 - As a member of the Financial Advisory Committee I helped the district and board evaluate over $7 million in cuts. Much of this was never returned to our district when the CTA and governor settled on a deal that provided that to low performing schools. (I have no problem supporting low performing students and feel the money should have gone to the students not the schools. Our low performing students are left out of this source of funding.)
  • 2007-08 and 2008-09 - We don't know how bad it will be this time, but the district is right to prepare as best as we can. I will be doing everything I can to help our district this time too.

So where's the hope?
As grim as this seems, I know we will find a solution. If we can confront the brutal facts without losing sight of the students and staying positive I believe we will survive this and even thrive. This is one of the key tricks to building a great organization.

The excellent book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't which was recommended to me by Trustee Lara York talks about this as the Stockdale Paradox.

The Stockdale Paradox:

Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.
AND at the same timeConfront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

This applies just as much to school districts as it does corporations.

Other places to find budget information

Hate-Free Community presents the annual State of the City Forum

I attended this event last year and found it quite thought provoking. It was a great place to learn what city and schools are doing and to hear perspectives from the community.
Fremont Alliance for a
Hate-Free Community
Presents the annual
State of the City Forum
Invited Speakers:
Mayor Bob Wasserman
City Manager Fred Diaz
Police Chief Craig Steckler
Human Relations Commissioner
Superintendent Doug Gephart

When: Monday, February 11th at 7:00PM
Where: Fremont Congregational Church
38255 Blacow Road, Fremont
(510) 793-3970

From Mowry: Head North on Blacow. Turn left on Eggers. Turn right
immediately onto the Blacow side-road. Turn left into the church parking lot.
From Thornton: Head South on Blacow. Turn right into Blacow side-road. Turn
right immediately into the church parking lot.

Argus: "Former trustee sets sights on school board"

Did you see page 3 of the Argus today? If not check out the online version here: Inside Bay Area - Former trustee sets sights on school board
(The link is probably only valid for about 2 weeks.)

The presidential primary election has dominated headlines for months, but it's not the only political race weighing on some people's minds. Since September, former Trustee Bryan Gebhardt has been running a Web site announcing his candidacy for November's Fremont school board race.And on Feb. 24, he will kick off his campaign with a party at City Councilmember Anu Natarajan's house. ...

A great way to kick off and publicize the campaign!

Thank you to Trustee Peggy Herndon and Councilmember Anu Natarajan for their endorsements and support. They aren't the only ones. I'll be posting more endorsements to my web site soon.
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