Class reduction a priority for TTUSD budget | SierraSun.com
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Class reduction a priority for TTUSD budget

TANYA CANINO, Sun News Service

Lowering class sizes in fourth and fifth grades is emerging as a priority for the 1999-2000 school year, but whether it will happen depends on next year’s budget for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.

The school board is currently determining its priorities for the 1999-2000 school year, as it develops the budget.

However, adding programs like reduced class sizes may mean cuts in other programs, according to Pat Gemma, TTUSD superintendent.

A bleak forecast

“The bottom line is right now our budget looks bleak for next year. Most district budgets look bleak at this time,” Gemma said.

The school district is conservatively planning to lose another 80 children for 1999-2000, on top of the approximate 120 children it lost in 1998-99, according to Monty Folsom, business manager for the school district.

The major impact in declining enrollment is from the Prosser Creek Charter School, which operates under the school district’s umbrella.

“More and more parents are leaving the public schools to go to the charter school. We’re planning for those things happening, but we don’t know if they will happen,” Gemma said.

He said there are private kindergartens in the district converting to charter school status, so parents don’t have to pay private tuition.

The charter school is also developing site-based classes to offer a half-day core curriculum and then allow parents to pay tuition for enhancement classes during the other half of the day.

“There are a number of kids who left our middle and high schools at the lake and we are speculating they will stay gone,” Gemma said.

Compounding the decline in enrollment is information from Tahoe Forest Hospital that the birth rate is decreasing in the Tahoe-Truckee area, he said.

Eighty less students corresponds to a reduction of around $320,000 for the 1999-2000 budget, Gemma said.

Sen. Tim Leslie has introduced legislation to the California Legislature that would change how enrollment is counted in the school district.

Currently, any students in the Prosser Creek Charter School are counted in the school district’s enrollment, even if they live outside the Truckee-Tahoe area.

Jayna Gaskell, head of the Prosser Creek Charter School, has said that the charter school provides instruction for children as far away as Santa Rosa.

Because the charter school’s enrollment is included in the entire school district, TTUSD is not eligible for extra funding for declining enrollment districts.

If Leslie’s bill passes, then the TTUSD will be able to receive one-time money for the students it has lost.

Budget due June 30

That legislation, as well as the state budget, the actual enrollment in August and the end-of-year balance makes developing the 1999-2000 budget a tentative exercise. However, the district must submit a budget by June 30.

Currently, the district is considering a nearly $29 million budget and must include a 3 percent reserve of around $870,000.

To develop priorities, the district asked four employee groups – administrators, teachers, secretaries and support staff, and classified employees such as bus drivers – what their priorities are for next year.

Some of their top priorities were reducing class sizes in fourth and fifth grades, increasing the pay for substitute teachers and hiring district technicians for repair and maintenance of technology.

They suggested increasing revenue by raising the daily attendance level to receive more state funding, reducing overtime costs and cutting administrative costs, among other ideas.

Also being discussed are charging students to ride the bus, eliminating summer school bussing, cutting sports funding districtwide by $25,000, increasing class sizes at the middle and high school level and eliminating a part-time computer position.

At a school board meeting last Thursday in Kings Beach, the public also shared its priorities with the TTUSD Board of Trustees.

Willing to pay more

Some parents said they were willing to pay more for their children to participate in athletics so more money could go toward academics; another parent said families already have to spend extra money so their children can be in sports, according to school board member Karen Van Epps.

Christine Richardson of the FAN Club, the parent organization to support the music program at North Tahoe high and middle schools, explained how important it is to fund a third music teacher at North Tahoe Middle School. This year, the FAN Club helped pay for that teacher’s salary.

Another suggestion from the public was for families of schoolchildren to donate $100 to the school district to help pay for programs.

This was one of the ideas generated by the Fiscal Review Committee when that group of citizens, teachers and staff developed a three-year plan to address a $1.2 million shortfall in the district’s budget last December.

The group had suggested that the Excellence in Education Foundation lead the effort to ask families to donate to the district, but so far, the appeal to parents hasn’t been made.

“Right now that activity was postponed, but now the talk is to think about asking $100 from each family,” Gemma said.

The TTUSD Board of Trustees will be holding a workshop in early May to name the board’s goals and priorities and then Gemma will develop a budget from their priorities.

A public hearing will take place in June, before the budget is adopted by June 30.

The budget will be revised again at the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year after enrollment and funding figures are final.


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