At the April 21st meeting of the Governing Board of the Newhall School District staff and board members came to consensus on a list of budget reductions, expenditure shifts, and flexibility that will allow the creation of the 2009-10 Adopted Budget to be approved this June. They identified about $2 million in further expenditure reductions in the general fund. This comes on the heel of approximately $1.5 million in reductions that were made in the current school year.
Class sizes in grades 1-3 will be increased from 20 to 22 students per class across the district. Kindergartens at McGrath, Newhall, Old Orchard, Peachland and Wiley Canyon will also rise to 22. Kindergartens at Meadows, Oak Hills, Pico Canyon, Stevenson Ranch, and Valencia Valley will be staffed for 30 students each, and two teachers will serve the classes for English Language Arts and Mathematics instruction. Newhall School District officials say that the instructional rationale for the K decision is the same as it has been in previous years – students at those sites heavily impacted by low socioeconomic and ELL students will benefit from smaller classes. Since the district leadership feels it cannot deliver the lower classes at all sites, they feel they must at least deliver them at impacted sites.
The district will also provide a Supplemental Retirement Program (SRP) that has been successful in helping senior teachers retire early. On May 5th the Board will make a final determination on offering the SRP and which classes of employees will receive the benefit.
Between the changes in class size which provides related savings due to the reduced need for teachers, and the SRP savings from certificated positions, the district was able to capture close to $1 million of general fund expenses. The change in class size requires less teachers overall. The district’s goal is to balance the reduced need for teachers with attrition from retirement and other reasons, and ultimately rescind its remaining classroom teacher layoff notices. This will be considered at the May 5th Board meeting.
The district will also shift district level “categorical” dollars to the general fund with the new flexibility allowed by the state. These funds are from programs managed at the district level and while they will cause a general tightening up of expenditures in special programs, they will provide funds to keep the core of the district going. The district will not shift what remains of site categorical funding to the district level nor will they take categoricals that enable the employment of a visual arts teacher and PE teachers. In addition there will be some further restructuring of district office administration and support services to capture some expenditures.
School sites are still working to reduce state categorical funds by 20%. Changes at schools may mean further layoffs and reorganization of site-based programs.
The changes in district level spending allow the creation of a 2009-10 budget under the current known conditions and will allow the district to assure the County that it is solvent over a three year period, as required by law. Many of the categorical shifts that the district will use in 2009-10 are “one time” money that rebuild its reserve but once again are drained off over the years. Cash flow, due to state deferrals on the payments to districts, remains a huge concern and a larger than usual reserve helps with this problem as well.
District administrators point out that it is fairly well accepted that the current known state budget conditions will not hold.
Dr. Marc Winger, superintendent, said, “Much will be determined with the May election and the May/June economic forecast for the state. We have already heard that the State’s income projections are off by $8 billion. Failure of some of the initiatives on the May 19th ballot worsens the picture. Then the question becomes who gets hurt again? The state politics surrounding that question are mind boggling, but education is the single largest consumer of state budget dollars.”
At the May 5th meeting of the Governing Board they will be reviewing “Plan B” – where the district would have to go if there are further cuts in state revenues. A menu of further cuts and categorical shifts has been developed that can be implemented, but the District claims that these cut deep into the heart of the district instructional program.
What may affect all of this is the federal stimulus money in the “stabilization” fund. Districts still do not know the level of support from the general assistance money. If there are further reductions in state revenue this source of funds may protect them from further budget cuts.