School district wants to hire financial consultant
Emphatically stressing a change in employment structure to elevate student performance and save money, Lake Tahoe Unified School District Superintendent James Tarwater called for ingenuity.
“Let’s see how creative we can be,” he said at one point during Tuesday’s school board meeting.
“We can’t do what we’ve been doing before. We just can’t,” he said at another juncture.
Tarwater’s impromptu 20-minute speech on his vision for the district came in the middle of a presentation analyzing staffing and other financial recommendations given by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team. The team visited the district earlier this year, assessing the business side of the district and how it can be done more efficiently.
The board took action on several items that will define the rest of the school year and how it will cope with important vacancies in the positions of chief financial officer and assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction.
The vacancies were made during the summer after both employees left for similar positions in Southern California.
The first unanimous vote gave direction to Tarwater to come back with a contract for Theresa Ryland, a school finance consultant who will work with Tarwater and Director of Financial Services Harriet Lacey. The contract will likely amount to $49,000.
A vote was also made to address a possible search for a chief financial officer in March after enrollment numbers become more clear.
Ryland would be available on an “as-needed” basis, Tarwater said.
Board member Doug Forte thought the decision to hire Ryland made sense.
“I think that’s quite prudent and safe,” he said.
Forte did express a concern that Tarwater, who not only handles superintendent and financial duties but acts as the co-principal of the Lake Tahoe Environmental Magnet School, is “stretched too thin.”
Regarding the assistant superintendent position, the board directed Tarwater to bring back an organizational chart and finances on the proposal to promote two assistants and give additional duties to two principals.
The idea, if implemented, would give additional work to Sierra House Principal Jim Watson and South Tahoe Middle School Principal Jackie Nelson by naming them Director of Elementary Education and Director of Secondary Education, respectively.
The two, who have a total of 47 years in the district between them, volunteered for the positions.
“We’re willing to give it a shot,” Watson said.
It would also promote Wilma Hoppe, who was the assistant to the assistant superintendent, and Angie Freeman, Tarwater’s assistant, to cabinet-level positions handling portions of the curriculum and instruction duties.
“If it’s not working we’ll come back,” Tarwater said.
Tarwater again emphasized the need to focus on students learning English as their second language and lifting South Tahoe Middle School and Bijou Community school out of “Program Improvement” status.
He cited the creation of a new emergency reserve of $500,000 by the district as a good move with high gas prices and the possibility of midyear cuts by the state.
Chris Campion, a member of the superintendent’s finance committee, hailed the district’s direction with creating new programs but acknowledged the district is still battling declining enrollment issues. Campion referred to previous meetings when financial matters were addressed to a full audience.
“If things were going poorly this room would be full,” he said.