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Sonoma Valley schools may see $1M surprise

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A rise in property taxes may bring the Sonoma Valley Unified School District some unexpected money – about a $1 million surprise.

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, John Bartolome, the district’s business manager, told the board that he received word from the county that this year’s property taxes should rise 7 percent, which would mean about an additional $1 million in revenues for the district.

“We haven’t seen an increase that high in several years,” Bartolome told the board.

During the economic downswing over the last few years, the county has been telling school districts to budget anywhere from a negative figure to about a 1 percent increase in property taxes.

“Last year, they (the county) told us about 1 percent,” he continued. “We were bullish with 2 percent. Seven percent is a big surprise. When I did the math, it’s a big deal.”

Despite the county’s rosy projection, Bartolome suggested the district keep to its 2 percent property tax growth projection for each of the next three years.

While the district has been budgeting a 2 percent increase yearly, Justin Frese, the district’s deputy superintendent, said the district’s break-even point is 3 percent yearly. “This will naturally bring the deficit down,” he said.

The deficits over the next three years were projected to be $3.2 million this year, $1.2 million for the 2014-15 fiscal year and a little more than $1 million in 2015-16.

Bartolome also told the board that because of a change in state funding over the next couple of years, the district could be back to a revenue limit district as early as the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Frese agreed the district won’t be a basic aid district for long.

“Under the LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula), a basic aid district is defined as a district that does not receive state aid to fund the floor entitlement for transition to the LCFF or any portion of the LCFF at full implementation,” Bartolome explained.

“Under LCFF, we’ll get the funding we deserve,” he added.

Frese told the board that as the state continues to give funding increases, the district will move out of basic aid. He reminded the board that the district backed into being a basic aid district.

Board President Helen Marsh said it was good news, but “we’re still very underfunded to where we want to be and where we should be.”

Bartolome also told the board that, as of now, the district still has a more than $1.7 million balance in the general fund; almost $1.4 million in the 3 percent reserve fund; $985,000 in tax reserves; $2.9 million in a deferred maintenance fund and $778,000 in adult education funds.