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SDUHSD to focus on communication, student wellness, fiscal health in ’19

REGION — As we approach 2019, Dr. Robert Haley, who has served as superintendent of San Dieguito Union High School District since Nov. 1, shared his top three goals for the district in the new year.

Haley wrote, “I want to continue to meet with as many school community members as I can to learn more about the strengths of the district, the challenges of the district and areas of focus for me as the new superintendent.

“I want to continue to support the Board of Trustees in developing strong board governance through workshops and key agenda items on our upcoming board meeting agendas. Finally, I want to work on improving communication throughout everything we do as a district.”

Haley took over for Larry Perondi, a retired and longtime educator who served as interim superintendent after Eric Dill resigned at the end of the last school year.

Leadership turnover has also extended, in a less substantial way, to the five-member board. Two new board members, Melisse Mossy and Kristin Gibson, were sworn in on Dec. 13. Three incumbents returned to their seats, including Joyce Dalessandro, who has served on the board since 1996.

Two focal points at the last meeting centered on students’ social and emotional wellness and the district’s finances.

San Dieguito has started to more publicly discuss and focus on its students’ social and emotional well-being in the wake of a student suicide, a student death and a suspected case of self-harm at Canyon Crest Academy this year.  

The main takeaway for Haley of the two suicide-prevention workshops that the district hosted this November in the aftermath of those incidents was “our need to name the issue rather than hide from it out of fear.” Haley continued, “Suicide is hard to say, but we need to say the word if we want to talk about making people more aware and to prevent it as best we can.”

Echoing that sentiment, Gibson shared at the Dec. 13 meeting how the workshop leader, Stan Collins, drilled home the idea that families should talk about suicide rather than avoid the subject. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gibson said Collins explained, “We talk to our kids about drugs; we talk to them about smoking; we talk about alcohol abuse; we talk to them about wearing seatbelts in their car. And this is something we never talk about until it happens.”

The district wants to create awareness that “social emotional wellness is something that needs to be infused in our school cultures and in our school community,” Haley stated. “We are developing and beginning to implement age-appropriate curriculum in classrooms,” he added.

On the financial front, the adopted budget for the 2018-2019 school year showed a projected deficit of $3.7 million, but the first interim budget — a financial report required every December by the California Department of Education — shows a larger projected deficit of $7.8 million. That larger deficit came in spite of $3.9 million more in revenue than was previously reflected in the adopted budget.

When asked via email about the greater projected shortfall and whether Haley felt that the district was on track financially, he wrote that “school finance is complicated with how the cycle works” and offered to discuss the situation in more depth with The Coast News in 2019.

Haley did explain that the adopted budget only reflects revenue and expenditures for the current year, while the first interim budget includes unspent revenues from the prior year. Those carryover funds “have a specific purpose and have to be spent accordingly,” Haley wrote.

Nonetheless, the first interim budget qualifies as “positive” based on the way that the California Department of Education evaluates budgets. “A positive budget means that the District can meet all of its financial obligations for the current and subsequent two fiscal years, by maintaining its 3% [reserves] and having a positive cash flow,” Haley explained.