Schools face $2.6M in budget cuts
Facing a looming deficit of nearly $3.8 million in the next fiscal year, the Sonoma Valley Unified School District announced a series of meetings Tuesday night to discuss how to trim the budget.
Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese laid out a timeline for the district in order to have a list of cuts by January. The district needs to cut almost $2.6 million.
The continuing cuts are a consequence of Sonoma's status as a basic aid district, meaning it gets all of its revenue from local property taxes. But Frese explained to the board that the district was classified in the basic aid category by accident, and that until three years ago it had been a revenue limit district, meaning the state made up the difference between property taxes and the amount of money paid to educate each student.
But as the state limit dropped from $5,810 a pupil in 2007-08, to $5,235 this year, it moved the district into basic aid. Frese said if the district was still a revenue limit district and the state was paying what it should be paying, the district would have received more than $2.5 million over the last two years and would be receiving $1.27 million this year.
Instead, because the state has deemed that basic aid districts need to pay the state to level the playing field between richer and poorer districts, Sonoma Valley has sent almost $5.3 million back to Sacramento as its "fair share." The district will be writing a check to Sacramento for more than $2.5 million this year and Frese doesn't see that ending anytime soon.
"We'd be in much better shape if we were revenue limit and if it were fully funded," he told the board.
The district continues to fund many programs the state no longer pays for.
Frese said the district needs a 2 percent tax hike yearly to break even. "That's $700,000 a year. And that's just to break even."
"We've set money aside for a rainy day ... and it's raining," he said.
The district is facing a deficit of more than $3.8 million in the coming year, but with the rainy day savings, along with rebates and energy savings from the solar program, the district will "only" have to cut $2.58 million.
The district is also facing projected deficits of a little more than $4 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year and another $4-plus million in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Frese warned the board that, if the state doesn't meet its revenue goals by December, additional cuts automatically kick in. And if that happens, it'll cost the district an additional $1.5 million a year.
The district has more than $9.2 million in various reserve funds, that it will have to all but empty over the next three fiscal years.
Board member Helen Marsh pointed out that every furlough day saves the district about $110,000. "But even if we have eight furlough days (which the state allows) that doesn't come close to the $2.5 million," she said.
Frese warned the board that the coming cuts will be service-related. "I don't see how we can do this and still have school as we know it," he said. "We'd be a lot worse off if we didn't have the solar."
Marsh said that, instead of focusing on making cuts, the district probably needs to look at revenue enhancement. "We need to find more money for
the general fund," she said. "We need a campaign for giving or a parcel tax or ..."
The district is scheduling three meetings with staff to get its input. The staff sessions are set for Monday, Sept. 26, at Sonoma Valley High, Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Altimira and Thursday, Sept. 29, at El Verano.
Frese hopes to have the proposed cuts final by the December board meeting for a first reading,with the cuts made at a meeting sometime in January.