School district prepares for deficit

The Sonoma Valley Unified School District is expected to run deficits the next three years, but the district has enough money set aside that it can spend an estimated $2.56 million more than the revenue it receives.

At the Sept. 10 meeting of the district’s school board, John Bartolome, the district’s business manager, projected the deficits to be $550,157 this fiscal year; $1,076,141 in 2014-15 and $939,531 in 2015-16.

The district can afford the deficits because it has almost $8.3 million in various funds, although $1.3 million is part of a 3 percent reserve that it can’t touch, and another $2.9 million is in deferred maintenance money, which the district would like to see used for maintenance.

“This can carry us through the next three years,” Bartolome said.

He explained that property taxes this past year brought in $530,634 less than projections, but that salary and benefit expenses were $90,000 lower, supplies were $57,000 lower and services were $86,000 lower than anticipated.

He also said the district has seen a significant savings in electric bills because of the solar project now online at every school. In 2010-11, the district paid PG&E $567,000, which dropped to $133,000 last year and is projected at $75,000 this fiscal year.

He said that after the three years of deficit-spending, the district would be down to $267,417 for an estimated ending balance at the end of 2015-16.

Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese said that while the district has been budgeting a 2 percent property tax increase each year, it needs a 3 percent increase to be sustainable.

In other business, the district will be receiving $840,000 to implement the Common Core State Standards, but a school official said the district needs a plan before it starts spending the money.

Frese told the school board that, in addition to the money for Common Core that is to be used for staff development, curriculum and technology, the district has to come up with a two-year plan.

“The district would like to move forward quickly on planning and involve staff right away,” he said. “To facilitate the process, teachers will be recruited to participate in literacy and math teams and help design a plan to move Common Core teaching strategies that is in line with the SVUSD Strategic Plan benchmarks.”

Frese also recommended a three-year plan with $2.1 million in one-time money for Strategic-Plan related expenses.

Frese said staff suggested using $925,000 in one-time money to hire two additional custodians, funding middle school sports, cutting class sizes in second grade and paying up to 40 Common Core teacher leaders who would focus on Common Core implementation.

Frese told the board that the goal in class size reduction is to have K-2 classes at a 24-1 ratio. “We could look at third grade next year, but I don’t think we have enough classrooms to get back to 24-to-1 in K-3,” he said.

Boardmember Helen Marsh wanted to know about class reduction in grades four and five. “The fourth- and fifth-grades seem large,” she said.

Frese said the district is aiming for a 28-1 ratio in those grades but the options are limited to either combination grades or busing students to another school.

School Superintendent Louann Carlomagno said busing really isn’t an option. “By grade four, you’re not going to be able to move them off campus,” she said.

The board also adopted the new Strategic Plan that was unveiled at last month’s meeting.

“This outlines where we want to go and how we’re getting there,” Carlomagno said.

The plan includes five goals and strategies detailing how the district will achieve and measure the goals.

Carlomagno called it a “living document” and said it would be updated every spring.

Boardmember Gary DeSmet called it a “great plan reflecting the entire community.”

The board also heard lengthy reports on the summer intervention at the high school, middle school, Reading Academy and Algebra Boot Camp; on professional development; on standardized testing and reporting; and on Smarter Balanced Assessment.