School district waits on potential settlement, state budget

By: Cheri March The News Messenger
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The Western Placer Unified School District will likely meet with the California Department of Education in September to discuss the details of a one-time settlement for funds the district should have received in the past, district officials said Tuesday. In August, the district discovered that it would have qualified for basic aid from the state, with the exception of property taxes sent to Horizon Charter School. According to state code, the district could be eligible for current basic aid status, as well as receiving the funds it was owed in previous years. Terri Ryland, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services, said she is waiting on enrollment data from Horizon Lincoln before she can proceed. Data must be analyzed by each student’s district of residence, meaning Western Placer must receive enrollment information from the approximately 65 districts that send students to Horizon. Once the data is presented to the state, Western Placer will have to set parameters for spending and reserving the funds, Ryland said. A top goal is to keep the money for one-time uses, she said. “We don’t want to do what the state did and spend one-time money on ongoing expenses,” added trustee Brian Haley. Ryland also cautioned board members that basic aid is easily lost, particularly if property taxes fall and enrollment rises simultaneously. “Basic aid districts will usually have a fund balance amount because basic aid money comes and goes, and we were right on that margin,” she said. Even if it qualifies for the settlement, the district probably won’t receive money until February 2009 – too late to affect this year’s budget, which the district was forced to trim by approximately $2.4 million in June. Two Creekside Oaks Elementary School kindergarten teachers attended Tuesday’s school board meeting to express frustration over their loss of kindergarten aides, one of the casualties of the lean budget. “Since beginning of school, we’ve definitely felt the effects,” said Regina Hinnenkamp. Hinnenkamp said aides typically assist teachers by performing tasks such as passing out crayons and glue, providing first aid and helping the school’s youngest students tie their shoes and write their names on papers. Without aides, she said, teachers must fill those roles themselves. “It’s unfortunate that I feel like most of my teaching day is spent trying to maintain my classroom instead of teaching,” she said. Stephanie Maul, another Creekside Oaks teacher, described two incidents in which interruptions could have been prevented had an aide been on hand. On the first day of school, Maul said, she was alone as parents left and had to manage the upset children before she could begin class. “One little girl was so upset she had to physically be held back when kicking, crying and screaming for mom,” she said. In another instance, three students in Hinnenkamp’s class had to use the restroom at the same time. While two were still waiting, the toilet overflowed. Instruction stopped completely as the teacher had to call for help. “I am hopeful that when the budget is passed, you will remember kindergarteners and their aides who are desperately needed,” Maul said. Trustees were sympathetic, but reiterated that their hands are tied until the financial situation changes. “It’s unfortunate that the state has not given us numbers so we can work through and see what we might be able to reinstate,” said trustee James McLeod. In other business, Cathy Allen, assistant superintendent of facilities and maintenance services, noted that a draft facility plan had been prepared for Lincoln and Phoenix high schools and would probably be presented to the board on Sept. 16. Also, the district has been meeting with developers about Villages 1 and 7, future residential areas in the city of Lincoln’s general plan. “We just keep hammering home the same message – we need you to pay for kids in your development,” Allen said.