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Dublin Schools, Growth, a New Superintendent and SB50 – an Interview with School Board President Dan Cunningham

April 9, 2016

Murray Elementary School Celebrates Opening of Kindergarten Complex - Trustee Dan Cunningham

DUBLIN, CA–The theme for 2016 in Dublin schools is “change”. The challenges of rapid growth, the retirements of Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hanke and Dublin High School Principal Carol Shimizu, finding funding for new schools (including another high school) and upcoming elections combine for a busy year for Dublin Unified School District Board Trustees. To understand how the District is managing this year of change, OneDublin.org’s Mary Morehead recently met with Board of Trustees President Dan Cunningham.

Mary Morehead: There has been a lot of talk about “SB50”. Why is SB50 an important topic for Dublin education?

Dan Cunningham: “SB50 was a State law that was passed in 1998 that set out how school facilities were going to be funded. There is a long history behind SB50, but basically when they passed that law in 1998 what was supposed to happen was that as long as there was a State bond, and Prop. 1 was the State bond that passed at that time, the State would fund half of school construction, and the developers would fund through fees the other half. The developer fees varied – there are Level 1 fees covering the case where there aren’t space constraints but the developers are still developing, Level 2 fees require additional criteria and Level 3 fees were meant for when the State was out of money.

“The reason this issue is important is that the State never really covered 50% of the amount that was outstanding – they covered about 40%, and the developer fees were never enough, and never adjusted for inflation, so what was meant to be 50/50 ended up 40% from the State, 30-40% from Districts and 20-30% from developers.

“When the State stopped funding school construction in 2014 there was $30M left in the State bond fund and $2B of school construction projects in the pipeline. The issue is that the only way for Level 3 fees to be charged is if the State Allocation Board, which we went to speak with, writes a letter to the Senate and the Assembly stating ‘we’re out of money’. That’s all they have to do, and that instantly triggers Level 3 fees.

“Because the State refuses to take that step we’re stuck with Level 2 fees. There’s no State funding, we’re still waiting for reimbursement for Amador Elementary School, so now rapidly growing cities like Dublin are stuck with the bill.”

Morehead: Your trip earlier this year to Sacramento gave DUSD a lot of visibility. Do you believe that visibility will turn into tangible action?

Dublin School Board Trustees Cunningham - Miller - TomlinsonCunningham: “I do. The developers are set on passing the State bond in November – they’ve been very clear on that – despite the Governor proposing a lessor bond if the developers pulled their bond measure. Even if the State bond doesn’t pass, which would trigger Level 3 fees, it will bring the developers to the table. They wouldn’t have a choice – it’s either Level 3 fees or a bond measure. If the State bond measure does pass that helps with our short-term school construction challenges.

“While I believe we’ll see action I don’t believe it will be fast. I learned first hand from visiting Sacramento how slow State bureaucracy can be.”

Morehead: City and School Board officials have taken a beating due to the rapid growth and the resulting impact on many Dublin schools. Is the criticism fair? What have you learned in this process that can help future boards?

Cunningham: “Hindsight is 20/20. Are there decisions we could have made earlier or differently? Absolutely. I’m never going to say every decision we’ve made as a city council or a school board has been perfect. Given the information we get, and what we have to deal with, I believe we’ve made the best decisions possible at the time. One of the things I’ve learned is that we have to find better ways to engage the community other than social media. The biggest issue with social media is misinformation is taken as fact, and if you suggest that misinformation isn’t fact it’s interpreted as an attack. As governmental bodies we have to learn how to operate in a social media world. I wish I could instantly respond to every question but I can’t.

“I believe the City Council and School Board need to work better together, and we’re working on that. We have liaison committee meetings which are public. The City has been generous and while some people didn’t like the land deal but that saved the District a minimum of $60M that we put towards the actual structure. The deal with the City allowed us to invest in the facilities and not just the dirt.

“I think we’ve learned a lot as a School Board, I know I have; people want to be heard and we need to find better mechanisms for them to feel heard other than social media.”

Morehead: What inspires you to serve on the Dublin School Board?

Cunningham: “Helping our students. Everyone serving on the Board is thinking about how we can make our students lives better. The Gael Period, which was not a popular decision when it was first announced, has worked well so far, even though there are still things to fix. Better enforcement mechanisms, for example, for the Gael Period rules. The Homework and Grading Committee, creating balance with athletics and extracurriculars, all are examples of how we can help students succeed. We have great schools, what our students and teachers have accomplished, that’s what motivates me.

“All the screaming that’s happening right now around school construction and growth comes with the territory. But it’s how we help students that ultimately motivates me.

“Early in my tenure on the School Board, with Trustees who are no longer serving, there was contention between several of the Board Trustees and at the time I had plaques made that stated “It’s all about the kids”. It really is and it’s critical we don’t lose sight of that priority.”

Morehead: It’s been a decade since the District hired a new Superintendent. How will the hiring process work and what are you looking for in the next Superintendent?

Cunningham: “The process started earlier this year with a sub-committee consisting of Trustee Sameer Hakim and myself. We issued an RFP for a search firm which resulted in the selection of Leadership Associates Executive Search Advisors. The search firm will interview staff, administrators, parents and students – we want to get a broad spectrum of what the community wants – and then we’ll post the position. The interview process starts in April with the goal of selecting the Superintendent in May. The Superintendent is the School Board’s one hire and ultimately it is our decision.

“I’m looking for an educational leader who has a vision for education. That is a Superintendent’s number one job. I want someone who understands we are a Professional Learning Community. To lose what we’ve already put in place would be sad – I’m seeing more and more school districts following our lead. We need a leader who can manage through the challenges we face due to growth but more importantly can lead this District forward serving our students and the community.”

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8 Comments
  1. April 9, 2016 12:43 pm

    Thank you Mary for asking questions, however Mr. Cunningham fails to answer the most important question: 50% of $42= $21. (He admits that level 2 fees should be 50% of impact). But we are only collecting about 6$, even less than that for the 2000 homes coming to Dublin Crossings. Why aren’t we collecting $21 for level 2 fees? Furthermore, why will our future bond money be used to build Dublin Crossings school instead of only used for current needs in our existing schools? Why won’t DUSD ask the Dublin Crossings developer to impose a Mello Roos school tax for the Dublin Crossings School to the DC home-buyers?

    • April 9, 2016 2:16 pm

      The DUSD did ask the developer for Camp Parks about the CFD, which has been imposed. This is similar to a “Mello Roos.”tax. The city is the appropriate entity to answer your questions about this tax. As for developer fees, there seems to be much confusion and misinformation on social media as to why we charge what we do, why we capped one development (Camp Parks) at level 2, and how we intend to collect higher fees. If interested, there is a mechanism to ask these questions on the district website. This is the best place to get the facts, and ALL school board members are willing to discuss this with any resident-just not on your social media sites. Its better to have in person conversations so that follow-up questions can be asked and answered. However, in the meantime, please submit any questions you have to communications@dublinusd.org. This avenue has been utilized by many in the community to get their questions answered quickly.

      • April 10, 2016 7:23 am

        From a FMPC Member: “Thinking about this, perhaps it is NOT clear to the public that it is our district that determines the Level 2 fee.

        I think many misunderstand and feel that Level 2 fees are in fact set by the state.

        Each time I read the district saying they are “charging the most allowed by law, Level 2 fees” I think “yeah but who sets that fee, and why did you, DUSD, set it so low” but the average person may not think that and only see the board is doing its job.

        So perhaps to clarify:

        *Each individual school district determines its own Level 2 fee that it will charge developers based on the number of students generated by new homes in the district and the actual construction cost to house those students.

        *Level 2 fees are used to offset 50% of the cost to house each new student in a school district that is generated by new homes and is paid by the developers of the new homes

        *The state of California is expected under SB50 to pay the other 50% of the cost to house new students generated by new homes

        *Note that if the Level 2 fee is inaccurately calculated (either by underestimating the number of students generated by new homes, or by underestimating the actual cost to build additional school space, or both) then a school district will find itself having to raise funds by issuing a bond, as the Dublin School District is now doing to cover the shortfall.”

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