HAYWARD — After being pressured by community members and civic leaders frustrated by poor test scores, school trustees adopted goals for the district at their Wednesday meeting, vowing to strive for academic improvements, better leadership and safer campuses.
Board members acknowledged that it would be a tough task, especially considering the next agenda item reported that another $12 million would have to be cut for the next fiscal year, possibly more after the proposed state budget is announced at the end of January.
The district has been chastised by residents and city officials alike, who were dismayed to find out earlier this fall that Hayward schools fared worst in the county in terms of Academic Performance Index scores.
"The test scores show a lack of progress," said Julie McKillop, planning commissioner and Chamber of Commerce chairwoman. "They are dismal and disappointing to the community. We realize we are going through difficult times, but the community is feeling that there is a lack of direction and focus within the district."
The district also received a letter last month from Mayor Michael Sweeney and council members Anna May and Bill Quirk urging the district to clearly prioritize where limited funds are directed.
To that end, the board held two work sessions and came up with key areas. In addition to the three already mentioned, they will aim to regain financial solvency and improve relations with the community.
The board has been holding meetings to hear how residents would like to see funds prioritized when the hard budget decisions have to be made. Two more are scheduled for January.
The board also called a special closed meeting for 5 p.m. today. On the agenda are two items, one related to a performance evaluation of the superintendent, the other related to an interim superintendent. No further information about the meeting was available Thursday.
The board will begin deliberating about budget cuts in February.
Sarah Gonzales, vice president of the board, said trustees have seen a good turnout at the community budget meetings and have been listening to concerns and suggestions.
"What I'd like to see is a community able to have confidence in our schools," she said.
Gonzales said it will require "significant changes, a reconstitution and restructuring of schools," and she asked for staff members to examine successful redesigns, such as the small schools movement in Oakland. She wants to look into such changes at two elementary schools and one middle school that are currently failing, though she did not specify which ones.
"I have been on the board for six years and we have made marginal, if any, progress in some areas," she said. "Now we need to pull out all the stops."
Gonzales said the board understands the community's frustration, adding that "we're closest to you, so we'll take our licks."
But she said they, too, are disheartened by decisions they have no sway over.
"School districts are paying a price for leadership at the state level," she said. "Put the responsibility where it belongs — on the state Legislature. It's on them to get off their you-know-whats."
Eric Kurhi covers Hayward. Reach him at 510-293-2473.