Forum attendees eye $2.6M in school cuts
School Superintendent Louann Carlomagno answers a question while Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese looks on during Tuesday night's community forum.
More than 120 people turned out Tuesday to find out more about the proposed $2.6 million in cuts the Sonoma Valley Unified School District is facing.
It was the second meeting in as many nights. The Monday meeting drew 50-to-60 people.
School Superintendent Louann Carlomagno and Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese explained how the district ended up in its current financial predicament. And the audience wanted more information on the nature of the cuts, much like the school board wanted at its meeting last week.
Carlomagno told the audience that the district used to be a revenue-limit district, meaning that the state established a baseline figure for the cost to educate each student, and then would fill the gap between local property taxes and the state’s figure.
But the district gradually morphed into a basic aid district, because the property taxes the district collected grew to be higher than the state figure. In a basic aid district, the district traditionally gets to keep any additional money above the state baseline and thus is able to build reserves.
But because the state is cutting funding to revenue-limit districts, it also wants revenue kickbacksfrom basic aid districts – and that is what will cost Sonoma a little more than $2.5 million this year, and each year into the foreseeable future, for what the state calls its “fair share.”
“The state is only funding about 80 percent of what districts are entitled to,” Frese said.
Frese was talking about Proposition 98, that guaranteed schools a percentage of state aid. In 2007-08, for example, the state funding for each student was $5,810 and the projected figure for 2012-13 is $6,754 a student. Instead, the state will be paying only $5,397 a student, nearly a $1,400 difference.
Frese pointed out that if the state would pay the $6,754 figure, Sonoma would be receiving more than $1.7 million from the state instead of paying $2.5 million.
The district, he said, cut $315,000 in the 2007-08 fiscal year; a little more than $1 million in both 2009-10 and 2010-11, and didn’t cut anything last year despite deficit spending.
Frese said the district has about $9.2 million in various reserve funds that it will be tapping into this year and over the next three fiscal years as deficits are projected to be in the $3.8 million to $4 million range in each the next three years.
“And,” he warned, “this isn’t the worse-case scenario. If taxes don’t come in at the state level as what was budgeted, that will trigger more cuts and will cost us another $1.5 million a year.”
Carlomagno went through the list of proposed cuts. While the district is looking to cut about $2.6 million, the list contains about $5 million in options, such as eliminating class size-reduction and furlough days.
“School districts in the county have chosen to eliminate class-size reduction and use furlough days,” she said. “We’re one of only 10 districts in the county that doesn’t have any furlough days,”
Among the questions raised at the meeting were those on class-size reduction. Carlomagno said that there are up to 30 students in the third-grade classes around the district, but that the kindergarten, first and second grades are at about 20-to-1 or 22-to-1.
Another question dealt with backfill, referring to the possibility the state eventually pays funding it withheld. “Theoretically, the state will backfill,” Carlomagno said. “But realistically, it won’t happen.”
She said in the past, the state has offered an amount less than what was cut and school districts usually take what is offered.
Carlomagno said more information about the cuts will be posted on the district’s website sometime next week.
And she told the audience that there will be a school board forum on the cuts the week of Nov. 14, at a time and place yet to be determined.