Money hot topic in school discussionBy Heather Murtagh
Budgets are back on the San Mateo Union High School District's agenda, as the Board of Trustees is set to discuss where it financially stands just a few months after it approved $3.5 million in cuts.
An update of the current year's budget, a review of the district's recovery plan, as well as a presentation of an independent audit of last year's budget are all scheduled to take place tonight. Taxes are slightly up, which is good news for the struggling district. This doesn't get the district back in the red, since it will still be short $600,000 of the required 3 percent reserve if all the budget cuts add up to the anticipated savings, said Superintendent Sam Johnson.
The Board of Trustees approved $3.5 million in budget cuts including the layoff of 12.4 teachers and 36.1 school staff Sept. 28 to restore $2 million in its reserve. District officials attributed the problems to a number of incorrect property tax projections, county tax rebates, rising special education costs and late notifications. These issues are changing the way contracts are negotiated and planning is done. The recovery plan update will review line item by line item how cuts have matched up to estimated savings.
"With a recovery plan you cut a little more than you actually need because once you cut something, out pops something else you need. Now that we have implemented the recovery plan there are things that haven't fully materialized and we need to make other adjustments," said Liz McManus, associate superintendent of business services.
The plan, for example, anticipated $350,000 in revenue savings by teaming up with the College of San Mateo for classes. Revenue hasn't come in quite as high, however.
This is where an update on the current year's budget becomes important. The budget was adopted in June, prior to the necessary cuts. As a basic aid district, the district creates a budget around tax estimations. These projections were updated in October, which increased the tax estimates by $440,544. Property taxes are now expected to increase by 7.2 percent from last year. If this increase is current, the district is planning to create a $1.5 million contingency reserve to pay for pending rebates - currently the district is aware of $650,000 of forthcoming tax rebates and legal settlements.
Although the financial future looks brighter, board President Marcia Cohn-Lyle isn't believing anything until the district has the money.
"We're not counting on the money, which we were foolish to do in the past. ... We are in a lot better shape because we cut the fat. We will be becoming a leaner, meaner district," she said.
Part of the remaining $600,000 will be made up by not filling administrative positions. Assistant Superintendent Mark Avelar, for example, will be retiring at the end of this month. Others in the district will pick up a bit of extra work to allow for extra cash, said Johnson. Any further cuts will be made in the upcoming school year's budget, which the district will begin to work on next month, he said.
Cohn-Lyle, on the other hand, expects cuts to occur sooner with the dismissal of more classified employees.
More than 80 classified employees were let go over the past four years, Earl Everett, California School Employees Association labor relations representative, said in a previous interview.
The independent audit has yet to be delivered to the district office as of press time. This topic may not be discussed at the meeting, since board members and district staff might not receive the information prior to the meeting.
Copyright ©2006 Daily Journal. Published 12/14/2006.