The School District is facing a potential shortfall of approximately $30 million during the next two years, and a portion of Tuesday night's School Board Meeting was spent discussing the problem and how to stay solvent during the crisis.
"Thanks to federal stimulus money and prudent reserves, we were able to avoid major cuts this year," said Superintendent Steven Enoch. "Many school districts were not able to do that. However, that was one-time money, and now we find ourselves back in a potentially catastrophic budget situation."
According to Enoch, in order to remain financially solvent, the trustees will need to begin to consider:
1. Reducing labor costs through programs and services reductions;
2. Reducing labor costs by increasing class size; and
3. Reducing labor costs through salary reductions, furloughs, benefits caps, etc.
"Like all school districts our personnel expenditures are approximately 85 percent of the budget," said Enoch. "Therefore, when all is said and done, dealing with such a huge shortfall generally comes down to these three main options."
The San Ramon Valley Unified School District released the following Questions and Answers about the budget crisis.
Q. What is the basic financial challenge we face as a district?
A. We are forecasting a two year deficit of approximately $30 million. By law we must maintain a balanced budget.
Q. Why does it seem worse than last year?
A. We have been able to operate this year without significant program reductions or employee concessions because we have been living on district reserves and Federal Stimulus funds, both of which are one-time funds and will be gone in the near future. This challenge is true in just about every school district in the state, which is why many are saying that 2010-11 will be the most difficult year for public education since the passage of Proposition 13.
Q. We passed our parcel tax, doesn't that help?
A. Yes, it does indeed help! If we had not we would be looking at a two-year deficit of approximately $42 million. It is also important to note that Measure "C" intentionally does not protect specific programs as the Board wisely anticipated that the funds would be needed simply to offset some of the loss of state funding. Measure "C" generates approximately $6.8 million dollars each year.
Q. How much has the state actually reduced funding?
A. The Governor's recent budget proposal for next year reduces funding to our district $6.1 million dollars. Taken together with the State funding cuts we have received since the 2007-08 school year, we will be receiving approximately $823 less per student next year than we did two years ago!
Q. But isn't our district growing and doesn't that help the budget?
A. We are still growing and it does help our budget. (Many districts have declining enrollment, which is very problematic in this economic environment.) We are projecting growth of 500 students from the start of this year to the start of next year. The "growth bonus" that comes from more students is already factored into our projected budget. The growth also offsets some of the potential layoffs that we might experience.
Q. What are the Board's and Superintendent's goals during this crisis?
1. Minimize program and service reductions (including keeping class size as low as possible)
2. Preserve as many jobs as possible, which includes trying to avoid the demoralizing process of layoffs
3. Keep the school district financially solvent
Q. Why is the district offering a retirement incentive for teachers?
A. The purpose is to provide a health benefit incentive for senior teachers to consider retirement as this could help reduce the number of potential layoffs of recently hired teachers. The district may also benefit initially with a better cash position as newer teachers cost less than experienced teachers. In the long run, however, this incentive is not a "money maker" for the district, but it may help with short term cash flow. The down side is that we may lose many wonderful teachers, with the result being a loss of wisdom and skill that only experience brings. The incentive is not offered to administrators or classified employees because there is not a significant difference in pay between new and senior staff members, as there is with teachers.
Q. How might our school district tackle this serious budget shortfall?
A. Like all school districts, our personnel expenditures are approximately 85 percent of the budget. Therefore, when all is said and done it generally comes down to three main options. They are:
1. Reduce labor costs through programs and services reductions
2. Reduce labor costs by increasing class size
3. Reduce labor costs through salary reductions, furloughs, benefits caps, etc.
In addition, we may be able to move a little more categorical money over to our General Fund, as the State is allowing this during this economic crisis, although such a move is certainly not without consequences since these funds are currently used for various program support and services. Finally, there is the possibility of skipping a payment to the post retirement fund for one year. (This would not change the post retirement promise.) Some, but not all of these options require bargaining with our employee organizations. They all require the approval of the Board of Education.
Q. What kind of program cuts would we be talking about?
A. Most likely it would look similar to the list we contemplated last year and similar to what other district are considering. Central office administrators, department secretaries, librarians, special education support, assistant principals, elective programs, school closures, counselors, sports, maintenance support, custodians, etc. would be typical reductions that would most likely be considered. With a shortfall of approximately $30 million for the next two years the program reductions will have to be severe.
Q. What about furlough days? What are they? How do they work? How much does a furlough day save the district?
A. Furloughs are days off without pay. The end result is reduced annual earnings for employees. They would be structured so a full service year would still be counted toward retirement, but the compensation would be lower. Each furlough day for all employees saves the district approximately $750,000.
At this point the management employees and the confidential employees (non-represented executive assistants) have agreed to accept whatever furloughs other employees agree to. In addition, the top level administrators have agreed to an extra day beyond all other employees, and the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendents have agreed to two (2) extra days beyond what other employees receive.
Q. What changes are being considered for class size?
A. The immediate proposal is to raise K-3 and ninth grade up to 28:1. This is higher than we want, but at this time we must plan for this larger number hoping that we will not have to go this high. It is also possible that middle schools and high schools could have larger class sizes as well.
Q. What happens next?
A. While bargaining continues with our employee organizations, the Board will begin to identify possible program cuts and class size adjustments. We have little choice but to begin the process of preparing for layoff notices, which must go out to certificated staff (teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses, administrators, etc.) no later than March 15.
Q. What if the budget picture changes?
A. The Governor's budget is just a proposal. Once a final budget is approved we would anticipate meeting with the Board and with our employee groups to reassess the situation. If the State financial picture improves, we could back away from some of the anticipated actions, and of course, if the picture is worse, we might have to consider even more severe modifications