School district to face $2.7 million in budget cuts

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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A Western Placer Unified School District budget-committee member is concerned with how the district is spending money the last few months. That’s in light of the district having to trim $2.7 million from the budget for the 2010-2011 school year, which starts in August, according to Mike Kimbrough, the Western Placer Classified Employee Association’s president and budget–committee member. Proposed cuts include possible job losses, salary reductions, employee furloughs and changes to bus routes, according to the district’s Superintendent Scott Leaman, who said these ideas have been proposed during budget-committee meetings. “The district should have been more prudent in their spending in previous years,” Kimbrough said. “On the budget committee, what we’re looking at is making sure the money is being spent in the right areas.” The school district received $24 million in Basic Aid money from the state last year, according to Kimbrough, and “some of the money should have been held onto and not spent.” “The district received over $24 million and now they’re coming up saying we’re going into a deficit but have to cut $2.7 million,” Kimbrough said. Leaman said that $16 million of the Basic Aid was set aside “for vital areas we thought were high-need areas that needed to be attended to.” “I think there is some confusion about how the money was set aside,” Leaman said. “The board did set aside reserves.” Some Basic Aid money was set aside for items including retiree benefits, school bus replacements and funding for a new school, as well as $1 million for employee raises, according to Kimbrough. And $4.25 million was set aside for basic aid reserve and $2.3 million was set aside for the economic uncertainties fund. “We’re happy with a lot of this spending but some of the raises and hiring shouldn’t have happened,” Kimbrough said. “Our district was the only one in the state that received pay raises last year.” In response to Kimbrough’s statement about inappropriate raises, Leaman said the raises were negotiated because “salary is up every year for all labor groups” and is “a negotiated issue and every year, we have to come to some salary agreement.” A concern of Kimbrough’s is that the district is “not involving the community, just involving school district personnel” in the budget process. But, Leaman said, the district is involving the community by “talking about the budgets since last December” during school board meetings. The Western Placer Unified School District wants to trim $2.7 million from its budget for next year, in order to keep reserves intact, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business Joyce Lopes. During Tuesday’s meeting, Lopes said the school board is “trying to take a balanced approach to using reserves and making budget cuts.” “If we make no cuts in 2010-2011, we will have used most of our undesignated reserves,” Lopes said. The district currently has an undesignated reserve balance of $6.6 million. Lopes said the district “will be deficit spending for at least the next three years so the district wants to reduce expenses.” Leaman said Monday that more than 100 ideas for budget cuts have been presented during the district’s budget-committee meetings. According to previous News Messenger reports, the budget committee was formed to review budget-cut options and provide recommendations. The budget committee is comprised of school district staff, including classified employees and administrative staff. Leaman said the budget-cut ideas range from changing bus routes to employee furloughs. “We are really at the idea stage, collecting and analyzing ideas,” Leaman said. “We are trying to identify cuts as far away from the classroom.” He said a budget reduction of $2.7 million is “based on projections” regarding declining revenues and the state taking away money from the district. “We’ve seen a major decline in revenue,” Leaman said. “We are not as dependent on local revenues but more dependent on the state. Property tax going down doesn’t help.” Leaman said the revenue limit, which is the amount of money received per student, is also declining. When asked by The News Messenger if job and salary reductions are a possibility as part of the budget cuts, Leaman said “most definitely,” adding that “82 percent of the budget is in people.” “One of the criteria we’re using (to decide on what budget cuts to make) is impact on jobs,” Leaman said. “We’d rather not have those kinds of impacts.” During Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved an incentive for early retirement, which Leaman said was another way of reducing the budget. The district wants at least 10 kindergarten through eighth grade teachers to retire early. Leaman said the district does “not intend to replace those K through 8 teachers who retire and we are not forcing them to retire.” If 10 teachers choose to retire, each would receive $15,000, which Leaman said would be funded through general-fund money. He would not say how much money the early retirement would save for the district.