Dublin Schools, Growth, a New Superintendent and SB50 – an Interview with School Board President 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?
Cunningham: “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.”