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Preliminary School Budget Continues Multi-Million Dollar Cuts

With a state budget approval up in the air, the Redwood City School District has had to draft a budget based on certain assumptions.

At a school board meeting Tuesday night, the board approved a preliminary budget that would cut $1.8 million from the general fund. State law mandates that the board must approve a final budget before June 30, according to district Chief Business Official Raul Parungao.

The school district has prepared a complex multitude of various budget configurations, largely riding on the state’s budget. If Gov. Jerry Brown is able to pass the tax extensions, the state would increase education funding from $49.4 billion to $52.4 billion.

But the schools won’t see a dime of the $3 billion increase. That money would be used to reverse the state’s funding deferrals to school districts.

As a result of the state’s inability to provide the Redwood City School district with its allotted funding on time, the district has had to borrow money that has resulted in $55,000 in interest, the equivalent of a full-time employee.

Should the tax extensions not pass, the district will brace itself for even more cuts to school days, services and extracurricular programs.  

“This is a problem of the state inadequately funding public education,” Masur said.

The state budget has been one large guessing game, even for experts in Sacramento. Some have identified a date as early as June 15 and some say schools will have to wait until November for a final budget, Parungao said. Yet the district still plans to approve a final budget on June 22. Once the board enacts the budget, it has 45 days to revise it.

The district has been cutting every year since the 2006-2007 school year, with all employees from the teachers to the administration office sacrificing. There hasn’t been teacher salary raises in three years, and the district doesn’t anticipate any raises for the next three years.

To maintain the minimum required 3.25 percent reserves, the district may face an additional $2 million cut in the general fund during the 2012-2013 school year and an additional $3 million from the 2014-2015 school year budget. This would leave the district with a $1.8 million and $170,000 deficit after the cuts, respectively. These deficits would be covered through use of one-time reserve funds to balance the budget.

“The reserve level is at a tipping point,” Parungao said.

One percent doesn’t even amount to much: $800,000. The payroll for the entire district per month is $5 million, so 3 percent, or $2.4 million, doesn’t even pay for half a month of employee payroll.

The has anticipated flat funding, or the same funding amount over the next couple of years.  

The district will continue receiving revenue from the state based on factors like enrollment, attendence and cost of living adjustment.

However, the district expects an average daily attendance of 96 percent, compared to 97 percent last year, resulting in less funding.

“We were caught by surprise,” Parungao said. Though he couldn’t pinpoint an exact reason, he cited the poor economy as a reason for students dropping out or missing school.

The state also rewards schools with smaller class sizes, paying for 70 percent of funding for up to 20 students in a class. But the class sizes in the school district are 30:1 for grades K-3 and 32:1 for grades 4-8.

“I’m fearful for the children coming into the district now and and within the next few years,” said teacher Janet Wilkerson of the cuts. “There just won’t be resources to instill fundamentals in math and science.”

The district has worked with the Redwood City teachers’ union to agree to a three-day furlough to 180 instructional days and is looking to achieve the same with the California School Employees’ Association.

However, the district will pay more for employee benefits: 9 percent for statutory benefits, and a projected 10 percent increase for health and welfare. The district also anticipates a 10 percent increase in utilities costs, an area that school board members said could be trimmed with additional recycling and composting efforts.

“This isn’t just a way to save money for the school budget,” Masur said. “It’s also a way to run our schools more sustainably.

Superintendent Jan Christensen said stronger recycling and composting efforts could be made, but significant cost reductions would prove difficult due to garbage rate increases with new provider, Recology, amongst other factors.

Some concrete solutions to lesson the blow to the budget was the trimming and combining of certain district positions, Parungao said. For example, the district receptionist could consolidate her duties with the reprographics specialist and an automated phone system could assume some of her duties. The district emphasized the use of technology like high-speed copiers and printers to reduce waste and improve efficiency.

But while the district must find corners to cut, it still finds itself in a quandary over special education funding. The governor proposed to fund AB 3632, the Mental Health Services bill for special education pupils, but “funding” is an amorphous term. How this will trickle down to the school district is undetermined at the moment.

Preschools in the area have also faced enormous uncertainty. To cope with funding reductions, preschools can increase fees up to 10 percent. Some can convert the full day to a half-day, and schools can shorten the year from 244 to 180 days.

But Board president Alisa MacAvoy reminded the board and the audience that Redwood City wasn’t the only one reeling from the state’s budget uncertainty.

“Other districts are hurting as well,” she said. “We’re asking all employees to sacrifice and there are hardships with the class size increases, but we’re keeping ourselves solvent.”

The district has reaped the benefits of the generosity of organizations like the Redwood City Education Foundation, which has funded the entire salary of a music teacher to preserve the total of three positions for the district's instrumental music program. The approved $525,000 to cover a Wellness Coordinator, a P.E. teacher and other specialists. The Family Center has entered a tri-part agreement with the district, city and county for health and human services.

Jack Hickey June 08, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Stacie, you say "But the class sizes in the school district are 30:1 for grades K-3 and 32:1 for grades 4-8." I wish I could believe that! With enrollment of 9,000, this would require fewer than 300 classrooms! Why not downsize the district from 15 campuses to 12 with savings in Principals, staff, etc. Then there's the added bonus of leaseable and/or saleable school sites? Would-be alternative education providers would jump at the opportunity, particularly if property tax credits empowered parents to choose these new venues for their children's education.
Claire Felong June 09, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Student enrollment is not easily squished into equal increments of 30 or 32. The school district already has many magnets/alternatives within the the district which are working very effectively and producing many good results. While bringing all kids into larger campuses might be economically feasible, this would not serve the many students that are thriving BECAUSE they are able to be in small and intimate setting. There is a portion of the population (both children and adults are affected) that fails to thrive in crowds and large and crowded venues. Small schools such as Orion allow these students to move forwards. At the high school level small schools such as Redwood High are able to see many students through to HS graduation because the district is committed to educating ALL students. Redwood City is balancing one of the most incredibly diverse student populations in the country and, while not perfect, is doing an incredible job. Interest free loans to school districts from the state while the budget settles would be a nice idea.
Jack Hickey July 08, 2011 at 05:45 PM
"...this would not serve many students that are thriving BECAUSE they are able to be in small and intimate setting." Sounds like home-schooling might be a good choice for them. "Interest free loans to school districts from the state while the budget settles would be a nice idea." How about education vouchers or property tax credits to enable parents to choose alternative education?
Elaine Park July 09, 2011 at 01:08 AM
Jack, I'm curious, were your kids home schooled?
Jack Hickey July 09, 2011 at 04:26 PM
No, but I have friends who have been very successful at educating their children at home. And, for those parents who might want to consider this as an option, I highly recommend http://www.homefires.com/dk_bio.asp

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