Fiscal Director Kassandra Booth is leaving the Calaveras Unified School District (CUSD) after four-and-a-half years on the job, having accepted a position as chief business official for the Oakdale Joint Unified School District.
Over her time at CUSD, Booth worked hard to solve budgetary problems and ensure quality services for the schoolchildren of northern Calaveras County.
Booth grew up in Modesto, and obtained a business degree from California State University, Fresno. She went on to California State University, Stanislaus, for her master’s degree, and began working for the Clovis Unified School District in the Fresno area in 2007.
After eight years at Clovis, Booth found her current job as fiscal director for the Calaveras Unified School District.
“I think I got lucky,” Booth said in an interview with the Enterprise. “It’s been a good term here. I learned a lot over the past four and a half years.”
Booth’s tenure at CUSD could be described as a trial by fire.
“In September of 2015, we had the Butte Fire. So that was sort of the starting point of my time here,” she said. “Then we moved to a new financial software, then we had the teachers’ strike, and always financial trouble. I’m learning on my feet.”
The most pressing problem for CUSD is “rising costs without the same rise in revenue,” Booth said. “We’re a rural school district and we have declining enrollment, so that takes (funding) away, because we get paid on our students’ attendance.”
As funding has declined due to a drop in students, enrollment in special education programs has increased, further straining the finances of the district.
When the Individuals with Disabilities Act was passed in 1975, the intent was for the federal government to pay 40% of the expenses for special education programs.
However, “It was never 40%,” according to Booth. “It was close to 20% when it came into law in the 1970s. Maybe in another state it is closer to 40%, but in ours, because we have a high cost of living here, it was never going to be enough to cover our costs.”
This year, the district plans on allocating almost $7 million for special education programs. The high cost “is mostly because the kids need more support than, say, general education students,” Booth said. “A math teacher could cost the same as a special education teacher; there’s no real difference as long as they have the same level of degrees and years of experience, but a student in special education may have a paraeducator attached to them, maybe a speech and language service, maybe psychological counseling.
“There are a lot of services to get these kids to be functioning members of society, which is the ultimate goal,” Booth said.
Booth’s time at CUSD coincided with the teachers’ strike in 2017. “It was a difficult situation for both sides,” she said. “But I understand why they felt that they needed a pay raise, so we had to figure out a way that we could afford that, not just for them but for everyone in our district.”
Everyone got the raise, she said, leaving the district to adjust the budget. “We would have had to make cuts anyway, it would have just made them a little bit less,” she said. “They did what they felt they needed to do, and we just need to work together and move forward and continue monitoring our fiscal conditions and how we can provide the best services for our kids.”
Throughout her time with CUSD, Booth worked hard to secure funding for the district.
“My job is to educate about Calaveras Unified’s finances,” she said, “but at the same time, I am also educating the community, as well as the board. A lot of what our board members do on a regular basis is they go and meet with the legislators to lobby for funding.” Booth is part of a business association that works with unions and others to get more funding from the Legislature to put into education.
Through all of it, Booth remains a cheerleader for CUSD.
“There are some really great things happening in our school district,” Booth said, “and I wish more people were aware of all the amazing things that we do with such limited resources. We don’t have the money that Bret Harte or Vallecito do, but we’re still doing some pretty amazing things for our kids. I wish more of the community knew about all those positive things, seeing how great the staff is at connecting with our kids. Being so small, I think you get a greater opportunity to have that one-on-one interaction with the kids.”
It’s the small community working together that appeals to Booth.
“That’s what I was looking for when I was looking for an opportunity, and that’s what Oakdale has as well, is that small community,” Booth said. “That’s what I love here, and that’s what I hope to find in Oakdale.”
Booth’s favorite part of her job with CUSD was the people.
“I love the people that I work with, both on an everyday basis as well as the principals and administrators in the school district; there have been some really good teachers and classified support that I’ve been able to get a chance to work with,” she said.
At the CUSD board meeting on June 25, the board thanked Booth for her service and wished her farewell.
“I’ve been here 27 years with CUSD,” said Superintendent Mark Campbell. “All but five of those have been as an administrator. Over 27 years, we’ve had seven people sit in the seat that Kassandra Booth occupies. No disrespect to anybody, but she is by far the best that we’ve had.”
Campbell said that Booth’s beginnings came during a rough patch.
“She came in in 2015 midyear, at a really turbulent time, and she helped us navigate that,” Campbell said. “She helped us navigate 2017, which was a very tumultuous year for this district.”
The audience applauded Campbell’s remarks, and members of the board chimed in.
“Who said we’re letting her go?” joked trustee Suzie Coe.
“You are leaving big shoes to fill,” said board Clerk Cory Williams.
“You’ve done us a great service, and our loss is Oakdale’s gain,” said board President Dennis Dunnigan.
“It’s credibility, it’s respectability, it’s the strong presentations, the effective communication, handling the numbers and the people involved,” Campbell said. “It’s been very good for this district, in ways that we won’t even know until she’s gone. A tribute like this doesn’t do her justice. You made us better people, you made this district better, so I thank you. Thank you.”