School deficits could balloon
If Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax hike doesn’t get on the November ballot, or if it fails, the Sonoma Valley Unified School District will see deficits skyrocket the next three fiscal years.
The deficit this year will top $3 million, despite the district making almost $2.6 million in cuts last month.
At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese warned the board that if Brown’s tax measure doesn’t make it on the ballot, or if it’s defeated, there will be additional cuts to school funding to the tune of $370 a student in average daily attendance (ADA). The $370 figure would cost the district about $1.6 million a year.
Even if the measure passes, it won’t mean any new money for the schools, it will just prevent further cuts.
The district has about $9 million in rainy day funds that it will use to get through the projected deficits in the next three years.
Frese said the deficits in the next three years would balloon from about $1.2 million in 2012-13 to almost $2.7 million. And it would get worse. The 2013-14 deficit would go from a projected $1.44 million to more than $2.9 million and the 2014-15 deficit would grow from $1.69 million to more than $3.1 million.
And Frese told the board the deficits don’t reflect the potential loss of transportation funding, nor any losses due to a new proposed weighted school funding formula.
“So what are we going to do,” Frese asked rhetorically, “We don’t know.”
“It’s not critical that we make our minds up in the next couple of months,” he added. “But it’s dismaying to see such a huge deficit after the cuts we’ve made.”
Frese didn’t have much better news on getting any money from the now disbanded redevelopment agencies.
“They (the agencies) are trying to figure out what their obligations are,” he said.
And he told the board not to expect a windfall. He estimated the district would receive about $300,000, but it’s still months away.
Frese did have some good news – comparatively speaking – for the board. The district isn’t going to lose as much money as originally expected from the governor’s December budget revision.
Originally, the district was going to lose half its home-to-school transportation funding of about $320,000, and $13 a student in ADA. But a senate bill restored the transportation cut, while it bumped the ADA cut up to $55 a student for ADA. So instead of losing about $375,000, the district will only lose about $235,000 to $250,000.
Boardmember Helen Marsh wondered what the district will do about additional cuts this year as notices have to go out to affected employees by mid-March.
Frese said the district would have to look at cutting additional services and that he is concerned that the district will burn through its savings at a faster rate than anticipated.
Boardmember Cam Hawing said the uncertainty is scary. “We are lost,” he said. “We don’t understand the politics. I represent a community and I don’t have any answers.”
And board President Gary DeSmet called the situation in Sacramento, “ugly.”
Frese also briefed the board on a proposed “trailer bill” that would change the way funding is allocated to schools.
“This new funding model is called ‘Weighted Student Formula.’ Conceptually, this would eliminate state categorical programs and offer funding on a per-student basis,” he said.
Under the proposed formula, school districts would receive a base amount for each student plus an additional 37 percent of the base for every English-language learner or socio-economically disadvantaged student, and an additional grant based on the percentage of ELL and SED students above 50 percent.
But Frese didn’t know how this proposed funding change would affect basic aid districts such as Sonoma. Basic aid means the district receives all of its funding through local taxes instead of a combination of local taxes and state backfill that revenue limit districts receive. Only about 10 percent of the districts in the state are basic aid.
Superintendent Louann Carlomagno said she’s never seen a “trailer bill” come out before the budget was rolled out.
In other business, the board heard an update on the results of the new Freshman Team configuration at Sonoma Valley High School. Lynn Fitzpatrick, the district curriculum and instruction director, told the board that figures through the end of the first semester are promising. She said that referrals for classroom behavior dropped from 97 in the first semester last year to 59 this year. Last year, 52 percent of the freshmen earned no Ds or Fs while the number this year was up to 60 percent.
The board received the initial proposal for collective bargaining from the CSEA (the California School Employees Association) and heard the district’s proposal. There will be a public hearing set for March 13.
The board also:
• Honored Thomas Gare and Anne Greenslade as students of the year at Altimira Middle School.
• Received a site update report from Altimira Principal Will Deeths.
• Approved single plans for student achievement.
• Approved $20,219.24 in warrants to Quattrocchi Kwok Architects for work on the photovoltaic system and for the Dunbar portable classroom.