Board of Education to elect a new president during final meeting of the calendar year

The IUSD Board of Education will convene for its final meeting of 2010 tonight at 7 at the District Office.

As this is the board’s annual organizational meeting, trustees will elect a new president and clerk and set meeting dates for 2011. In addition, the five-member board is scheduled to appoint school liaisons and representatives to various committees.

A little later in the session, the Board will also vote to certify IUSD’s First Interim Report, indicating the district’s fiscal health as of this fall.

The Orange County Superintendent of Schools requires every district to examine and certify its financial condition as “positive,” “qualified” or “negative” in December and again in March. Positive is the ideal certification, while qualified signals that a district may not be able to meet its financial obligations for the current year and two subsequent years. A negative certification means a district will not be able to meet its financial obligations over this period.

Staff will recommend certifying IUSD’s report as positive, indicating the district will be able to present a balanced budget.

Irvine’s District Office is located at 5050 Barranca Parkway in Irvine. To access an agenda for tonight’s session, click here.

Irvine Company donates latest installment of $20 million pledge for art, music and science

The Irvine Company this week presented IUSD with the latest installment of its pledge of more than $20 million over 10 years for enriched curriculum in art, science and music.

Robin Leftwich, vice president of Community Affairs for the Irvine Company, personally delivered a check for $2.3 million to the district at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting. That pushed the company’s cumulative contribution for the program past $10 million, and Leftwich noted that there are still five more checks to come.

“There’s still another $10-plus million to go, and I’ll keep coming back every year,” she said.

Launched in 2006, the Irvine Company’s Excellence in Education Enrichment Fund generously pays for art, music and science specialists in IUSD’s fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms. (To get a glimpse at how these educators benefit Irvine students, click here and find the story on page 4.)

As we mentioned earlier in the week, board members on Tuesday also voted to ratify updated contract agreements with IUSD’s employee associations that rescinded four of eight furlough days for the current school year, including two instructional days for students.

To check out a recap of Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, click here.

Based on unanticipated revenue, IUSD restores four furlough days, including two student days

The IUSD Board of Education has voted to ratify updated contract agreements with the district’s employee associations, rescinding four of eight furlough days for the 2010-11 school year.

The decision was made Tuesday night based on the influx of unanticipated federal dollars, as well as recent financial projections that show positive ending balances for IUSD through 2011-12. The following morning, Superintendent Gwen Gross announced in an email to the community that two instructional days would be added back to the calendar, as would two non-student work days.

Students on the traditional September-through-June calendar will now report back from winter recess a day earlier on Tuesday, Jan. 4, and high school students will attend on Friday, Jan. 28, which had been a semester break. Students in grades K-8 will report to class on Friday, May 27, which had been a K-8 holiday.

For those on the year-round calendar, Wednesday, Jan. 5, will mark the first day back from winter recess. In addition, year-rounders will also attend on Friday, May 27.

“While we understand that altering the calendar this deep into the academic year may be inconvenient for some of our families,” Dr. Gross said, “we also firmly believe it’s the right thing to do for our students and our employees, who have made great sacrifices to prevent further job losses and program cuts.”

Teachers and staff will report for two additional work days at the end of the year, but June 15 remains the final school day for all IUSD students.

Here’s the full text of Dr. Gross’ email:

Dear IUSD community member:

Last spring, the Irvine Unified School District and its employee associations reluctantly agreed to approve eight furlough days for the current year in response to the state budget crisis. We took this significant step knowing full well that it would result in both lost instructional time for our students and lost income for our employees. Yet we also included an important caveat: If unanticipated funds became available, this district and its bargaining associations would return to the table.

I am pleased to report that’s exactly what has happened. Not only did our district plan prudently and conservatively, thereby generating projected positive balances for the current year, we have also benefited from about $5 million worth of onetime federal dollars designed to preserve jobs and maintain salaries. As a result, our district and our collective bargaining associations recently met and agreed to restore four furlough days – including two instructional days – for the current year.

With the agreements officially ratified Tuesday night by our Board of Education, the following calendar changes have been made:


Jan. 4:  Students and staff will report back to school on this date following the winter recess.
Jan. 28:  All students and staff will attend school on this date, which had been a high school semester break.
May 27:  All students and staff will attend school on this date, which was previously a holiday for grades K-8.
June 16:  This day represents a staff development day. (June 15 remains the last day for students.)
June 17:  This day will be a non-student teacher work day. (June 15 remains the last day for students.)


Jan. 5:  Year-round students and staff will report back to school on this date following the winter recess.
May 27:  All students and staff will attend school on this date, which was previously a holiday for grades K-8.
June 16:  This day represents a staff development day. (June 15 remains the last day for students.)
June 17:  This day will be a non-student teacher work day. (June 15 remains the last day for students.)

Since California’s budget crisis began, school districts across the state have been forced to react to devastating cuts and game-changing policy decisions. Yet IUSD has done its best to plan responsibly and proactively, and that has put us in a favorable position relative to many of our neighboring school systems. While we understand that altering the calendar this deep into the academic year may be inconvenient for some of our families, we also firmly believe it’s the right thing to do for our students and our employees, who have made great sacrifices to prevent further job losses and program cuts.

I must remind you that significant challenges remain. The state’s budget, adopted only last month, represents a sloppy patchwork of faulty revenue assumptions, and experts tell us that California’s anticipated shortfall for the next 18 months is already a staggering $25 billion. Districts are advised to exercise caution as midyear cuts at the state level are a very likely scenario. Even more sobering, some are projecting that the state’s shortfall will last through 2015-16. 

Our district, as it has done in the past, will continue to closely monitor these fiscal trends to ensure we’re in the best possible position moving forward. In the meantime, I thank you for your patience and support of our 27,000 students. 


Gwen E. Gross, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Irvine Unified School District

Budget Notebook: Making the most of available resources, IUSD projects positive balances


This week, bands of heavy rain swept over the Irvine Unified School District, and thunder boomed intermittently. Yet rigorous instruction persevered in the dry confines of our classrooms.

Similarly, our district continues to weather the fiscal storm brought on by California’s budget crisis. And while we have certainly felt the tempestuous impacts, we are now in a position to cautiously project positive ending balances for the next two years.

For this we must credit the careful financial stewardship of our Board of Education, the sacrifices of our incredible staff, the generosity of our community and our district’s longstanding efforts to maximize every dollar and to put resources toward results.

Challenges remain, of course, but consider for a moment this fact: IUSD will not have to make additional reductions to declare a “positive” certification on its First Interim Report, which indicates financial health. Not many districts in the state of California can make this claim.

At Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, Assistant Superintendent Lisa Howell broke down the state’s latest budget and its impact on the Irvine Unified School District.

There was some good news in that the state spending plan adopted on Oct. 8 reversed a 3.86 percent cut and a negative cost-of-living adjustment for school districts. And there was bad news, including the governor’s surprising decision to veto critical funding for child care and special education programs.

But what’s most alarming is that the state budget for 2010-11 is built on a fairy tale of revenue assumptions, which will almost certainly turn back into pumpkins after the November election. Indeed, experts are saying that the Legislature’s revenue projections are already lagging, and that means mid-year cuts at the state level are very likely.

Because of this, the Irvine Unified School District’s financial picture is subject to change. But even based on worst-case scenarios, we are still projecting positive ending balances in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Here are just a few reasons why we’re in this unique position:

     • Our Board of Education quickly tapped the brake pedal on expenditures as California’s budget crisis began, enacting budget freezes and reductions that freed up onetime dollars to cushion the impacts.

     • Our staff made tremendous sacrifices, agreeing to four furlough days in 2009-10 and eight this year. This move alone saved IUSD approximately $8.5 million, negating the need for even deeper program reductions.

     • Our Business Services team budgeted proactively and conservatively while closely monitoring developments out of Sacramento.

     • Our administration costs remain extremely low. In fact, since 2003-04, the percentage of central administration expenditures has dropped from 5.25 percent to 3.65 percent. That places our district well below the countywide average.

     • Groups including the Irvine Public Schools Foundation and the City of Irvine stepped in to help fill critical gaps.

     • Our district embarked on an ambitious campaign to conserve energy costs, netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. In addition, IUSD is moving to establish energy-generating solar panels at nearly 20 sites – a move that will conservatively save $8 million over two decades – at no cost to the district.

We know from the headlines that California’s recovery from the Great Recession has been slow, as has the nation’s. Yet Irvine homes are maintaining their values, and the city’s median household income remains stable. This can be attributed in large part to the quality of our schools, which collectively posted a 916 this year on the Academic Performance Index, moving IUSD into a first-place tie for large school districts.

I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating here: Our financial challenges have been great, but the resolve of our community is far greater. Every day, the Irvine Unified School District and its fiscally prudent Board of Education are committed to making the most of our existing resources, investing in programs and services that yield maximum returns for our students. The results speak for themselves.

Board of Education votes to reopen negotiations with employee associations for 2010-11

Based on the projection of positive ending balances through 2011-12, as well as the arrival of approximately $4.5 million in federal dollars, the IUSD Board of Education on Oct. 5 voted to reopen negotiations for the current year with the Irvine Teachers Association and the local chapter of the California School Employees Association.

Back in March, with IUSD facing a shortfall of $20 million, Board members approved a number of staff-recommended reductions that included four districtwide furlough days for 2009-10 and eight for 2010-11. As furloughs represent a loss of compensation for employees, the days were secured through the collective bargaining process – and with the understanding that the district would reopen negotiations if new funding materialized in 2010-11.

Assistant Superintendent Terry Walker said negotiations will address IUSD’s current projections and the new federal dollars, as well as the uncertainties associated with the state budget.

To read a recap of the Oct. 5 Board of Education meeting, click here.

State lawmakers come to terms on a budget for California – 100 days after it was due

Well, better late than never.

California’s budget arrived 100 days late to be exact, setting a new mark for the longest budgetary impasse in state history. But by Oct. 8, lawmakers had approved a spending plan for the fiscal year that began in July. (The Los Angeles Times has more here.)

IUSD’s Business Services staff will closely scrutinize details of the plan in the days ahead. Yet initial reports indicate that the budget is at least a little more favorable to education than what was outlined in the governor’s proposal from May. That said, Gov. Schwarzenegger personally vetoed nearly $1 billion in welfare, child care and special education programs that will impact school districts, and most experts agree that California’s spending plan is based on some pretty rosy revenue assumptions that probably won’t hold up. That means mid-year cuts at the state level are a possibility.

You’ll recall that Irvine Unified adopted its budget for 2010-11 in June, which is when school districts are legally required to do so. (The state shares this deadline, but Sacramento is usually tardy.) In order to present a balanced budget, IUSD first had to approve a raft of budget reductions and adjustments to bridge a deficit estimated at about $20 million.

With costs coming in slightly lower than anticipated and revenue coming in higher, the district is now cautiously projecting positive ending balances through 2011-12. To read a recent update on IUSD’s finances from Superintendent Gwen Gross, click here.

Gov. Schwarzenegger and lawmakers say they’ve struck a deal on a state budget

Potentially ending the longest budget impasse in California’s history, it was announced on Oct. 1  that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and key legislative leaders had finally reached agreement on a spending plan for the current fiscal year.

Few details have been released, and lawmakers still must vote on the plan, which would presumably close the state’s $19 billion shortfall. Then there’s the possibility that the budget’s passage could be complicated by the upcoming election, as noted in a recent Los Angeles Times article.

The Irvine Unified School District is closely monitoring developments out of Sacramento, as a number of variables in the state budget will have local impacts. In the meantime, the district is cautiously projecting positive ending balances through 2011-12.

For the latest on IUSD’s budget, click here.

Budget Notebook: IUSD is cautiously optimistic as state sets new record for budget tardiness


This week, California made history – and not the good kind.

Our state is now as far as it has ever been into the fiscal year without an approved budget, and it could be days or weeks before a spending plan is agreed upon in Sacramento. Even then, California’s plan may be more smoke and mirrors than actual solutions.

So what does this mean for the Irvine Unified School District? Well, we are continuing to operate based on the governor’s projections from his “May Revise,” and while we cautiously project positive ending balances through 2011-12, we are also grappling with a number of variables.

For example, based on the May Revise, we have already anticipated and budgeted a reduction of 3.85 percent, or approximately $6.5 million. But it’s not yet known whether this cut will apply to districts funded under the “Basic Aid” model, including Irvine. Moreover, IUSD and other Basic Aid districts were told to brace for another reduction of $9.7 million as part of their “Fair Share” agreement with the state, but this cut doesn’t yet appear in any budget language for 2010-11.

This represents a total of $16.2 million that could swing in either direction. That said, even if we are asked to relinquish these funds in the months ahead, it appears we will still be able to make it through this year and next without additional reductions.

The reason is this: Our revenues have come in slightly higher than expected, and, thanks in large part to our employees, our costs have come in lower. In fact, including the 3.85 percent hit and the Fair Share reduction – and factoring in our state-mandated emergency reserves – the Irvine Unified School District is cautiously projecting healthy ending balances of $13 million in 2010-11 and $6.6 million 2011-12, followed by an estimated deficit of $4 million in 2012-13.

Again, these figures will not be real until we have a state budget – and even then there are no guarantees that Sacramento won’t pull the rug out from under us after the November election, which will introduce new lawmakers and a new governor. Based on our recent history, this district’s Business Services team has found it necessary to budget conservatively, and we’ve still been forced to react to bitter surprises in the spring. Nevertheless, our aim is to communicate every step of this process, for better or for worse.

We’ll soon be meeting with our employee associations to discuss our fiscal condition. Meanwhile, there’s another revenue source in play – in the form of federal EduJobs dollars. Back in August, a federal bill was signed into law to preserve jobs, including those of approximately 160,000 teachers. IUSD’s share of this money has been estimated at about $5 million, but there are many rules as to how and when these dollars must be spent. And, once again, our status as a Basic Aid district could impact our allocation. Staff is closely monitoring developments and will be prepared to make recommendations to the Board of Education, which will ultimately decide how to use these funds to the benefit of our students.

One more point worth noting. Last year, our district submitted its First Interim Report to the county with a “qualified” certification, indicating we would not be able to meet our financial obligations without taking corrective action – and we did exactly that. This year, we anticipate filing the same financial report with the ideal “positive” certification, pending another sudden shift at the state level.

That we are in this position is testament to the leadership of our Board of Education, as well as our faculty and staff, which has made incredible sacrifices and held costs in check in the face of dwindling revenue. While it’s not yet time to declare ourselves out of the woods, there is at least reason for cautious optimism heading into October.

IUSD cautiously projects positive balances, though state budget outlook is uncertain

While the state budget picture remains cloudy, IUSD is cautiously projecting positive ending balances through 2011-12, Assistant Superintendent Lisa Howell told the Board of Education this week.

That means IUSD, which has cut nearly $38 million over two years, should not have to make additional reductions to file its First Interim Report with the preferred “positive” certification. (First Interim Reports are submitted to the Orange County Department of Education every fall. They essentially signal a district’s financial health.) Still, Howell noted during Tuesday’s Budget Study Session that uncertainties remain in Sacramento, where legislators have yet to adopt a budget for the current fiscal year.

Meanwhile, school districts throughout California are hoping for some relief via a federal jobs bill that was signed into law in August. Howell said key details of that allocation have yet to be announced, but it is believed IUSD’s share will be approximately $5 million.

Tuesday’s budget session was followed by a regular meeting of the Board of Education. To read a recap, click here.

IPSF’s inaugural Spirit of Excellence Gala and Auction raises more than $200,000 for schools

“Live from Irvine, it’s Friday night!”

So proclaimed Nasim Pedrad, a “Saturday Night Live” cast member and former Trojan from University High School, during the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s inaugural Spirit of Excellence Gala and Auction, which was held Sept. 10 at the Irvine headquarters of Kia Motors America.

The black-tie event, which featured a cocktail reception and silent auction followed by dinner, a live auction, performances and dancing, honored five exceptional IUSD graduates – and raised more than $200,000 for schools in Irvine. Nearly 400 guests attended, including IUSD Board of Education members Sharon Wallin, Sue Kuwabara, Gavin Huntley-Fenner and Carolyn McInerney, Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang, Congressman John Campbell (R-Irvine), city officials, district staff, community leaders and various movers and shakers from the business community.

IPSF CEO Neda Zaengle

In addition to Pedrad, the IPSF gala recognized Jeremy Siskind, a former musical wunderkind from Irvine High who became a pianist for Eastman Jazz of New York City; Dr. Richard Baick, a Uni High grad who is now a physician with the Irvine Family Practice Medical Group; Garrett Atkins, another Uni grad who went on to play with the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles; and Woodbridge High’s Adam Keefe, a former member of the NBA’s Utah Jazz and the fifth leading scorer in the history of the PAC-10.

Foundation CEO Neda Zaengle, addressing the crowd, said IUSD’s alumni were emblematic of the district’s successes.

“If you really want to know about a school system, if you really want to rate its quality, meet a few of its graduates,” Zaengle said. “Who did they become? What did they bring to their communities, and how have they enriched their work, their relationships and their everyday deeds?”

Prizes displayed for the silent and live auctions included upscale dinners, artwork and signed sports memorabilia. In the end, these items – and the generosity of those in attendance – helped IPSF raise more than $200,000 for local schools, shattering all expectations.

Corporate sponsors for the gala included Kia, Wells Fargo, Hoag Hospital Irvine, Kaiser Permanente, Vizio, Schools First Federal Credit Union, Grandpoint Bank, the Great Park Communities, MVE and Partners and the South Coast Chinese Cultural Center.