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April 2, 2008 > An interview with Newark School Superintendent Dr. John Bernard

An interview with Newark School Superintendent Dr. John Bernard

School systems throughout the state of California face significant economic challenges as funding is being squeezed to the breaking point. In some districts, financial problems are compounded by retirement of key personnel. One of these is Newark Unified School District (NUSD) where Dr. John Bernard recently announced his plan to retire at the end of the current school year. TCV asked Dr. Bernard for comments about his reasons for retiring and the current fiscal situation and status of the district.

TCV: What factors contributed to announcing your retirement?

Bernard: After 38 1/2 years of service in five different school districts and five different counties, I have reached a point in my career when my retirement opportunities are optimal. My wife and I enjoy traveling and we plan to spend time doing this and I can help with her collectible and antique business. Retirement will also give me more time to spend with my grandchildren. On the professional side, I expect to do some consulting and teaching at the college level. I am also willing to serve as a state administrator in a school district that needs help.

TCV: How will your replacement be selected and will you be a part of the selection process?

Bernard: I am not involved in private sessions. The Board of Education decided to do a full search for a replacement and will select the best candidate from those that apply. Leadership Associates, a search firm, has been retained to find a candidate with the qualities, attitudes, skills attributes and strengths for a good fit. In the past few weeks, they have interviewed groups and individuals throughout the community to help that process.

TCV: When will your role as NUSD superintendent end?

Bernard: My last day of employment will be June 30, 2008. The board of education has a timeline in place to select the new superintendent. Interest has been expressed in tightening the timeline by a few weeks to allow more time for a transition and the new superintendent's familiarity with the district budget.

TCV: What is the fiscal condition of the district?

Bernard: Over the last few years, the board has been conservative and put funds into special accounts designed to weather times of economic uncertainty. In November of 2006, the board decided to move $1.5 million to a separate fund (Fund 17) for such situations. The 2008-09 school year budget will need to be approved by June and a significant portion of that reserve fund will need to be used. Since it was approved with a provision that when used, funds would be replaced, there will also be a plan to replenish it.

TCV: Will economic uncertainty funds be adequate to maintain school services at current levels?

Bernard: We have already cut back $1.12 million which did not involve using Fund 17. As the numbers from the state keep getting worse, we have identified another cut of $800,000 to $1M that will probably be necessary. The reserves we put in place will be especially helpful to counter this need, but this may be a multi-year problem. Cuts from our board involved no changes in class size, however if state budget cuts continue beyond next year, reserves will be depleted and the district will have to make important decisions which could affect many areas.

The way our budget works is similar to moving along two train tracks at the same time. One is a state budget announcement by the governor in January which we need to accept as fact and build our budget based on that. The other track is that in May, the governor can change his mind. Whatever we have decided based on the first announcement may have to be adjusted with a subsequent decision by the governor. Our adopted budget then must be in place by the end of June, approximately six weeks later. Once the state passes its budget on July 1 (or later) we need to reexamine our adopted budget and make any necessary revisions within 45 days. Right now we are making the best guess for next year's budget.

TCV: How does the city of Newark interact with the school district regarding new residential development planned for Area 3 and 4?

Bernard: There has been a lot of discussion. We have been well informed by city personnel. School district representatives have had many opportunities to express any concerns about new residential development in Area 3 and 4. Development projections for Area 2 and Area 55 are being reviewed as well. They will have an impact on the school district and we are in the process of pre-planning for that. Increased capacity is currently available at our junior high and high schools.

TCV: What is the legacy that you will leave with NUSD?

Bernard: We have closed contracts with all of our employee groups. Harmony has developed over the last three years resulting from the collective work of many others besides myself including the NUSD School Board, Human Resources Department and collective bargaining organizations within the district.

District academic achievement at our high school, junior high and elementary schools has progressed in the three years. Parent surveys indicate that our schools are viewed as safer learning environments over the past two years. All classified staff members are highly qualified by federal guidelines and almost all teachers are considered highly qualified as well.

We are using our bond money well and all renovations anticipated will be completed by December of this year; the public can be proud of the physical appearance of our schools.

Partnerships between the school district and other entities have increased in number. We have been told by other cities and the federal government that our school - law enforcement partnership is a model for the nation. The Newark Education Foundation has been successful in helping perpetuate our instrumental music program. These and many other partnerships are very positive.

In the event of emergency, the city and school district have worked together to create a storage space for equipment that would be used by the fire department. The police department partners with school resource officers. When I arrived in Newark, the city participated in a program called HOST (Helping One Student to Succeed) which has now transformed into TEAM (Teaching, Educating, Assisting and Mentoring). City leaders and others have volunteered to tutor to help high school students who have not yet been successful passing the competency examination.

This city is not one that just provides a check and walks away. We would rather have the time, mentoring and modeling of city leaders to help our students understand that this is what a community does - not only by the mayor, fire chief, police chief or city manger but many other people including city staff.

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