Steve Jennings: Dear students, parents and community members | SierraSun.com

Steve Jennings: Dear students, parents and community members

Steve Jennings
My Turn

By Steve Jennings

I know these challenging economic times are negatively affecting families across our community. Worrying about changes to our schools is only adding extra stress to an already difficult time. I am sorry for this added burden and want to bring some clarity to the financial condition of the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District (TTUSD) and the process we are following to balance our budget.

TTUSD is funded 67 percent by property taxes and 33 percent by other restricted federal, state and local funds. Our budget is based on specific revenue assumptions. At the start of this school year we projected our property tax revenues to grow by 5 percent in 2009-2010 and 5 percent in 2010-2011. As the economy worsened and the housing market collapsed, we lowered those projections to 3.5 percent and 2.5 percent respectively. In addition, certain funds in our restricted budget were cut 15 percent by the state this year and another 5 percent for next year. All of these reductions were in addition to the planned cuts required to afford the multi-year, 12 percent raise given to most of our employees this year.

Unfortunately, it is probable that more cuts will befall education this June. The recently passed state budget was based on revenue assumptions, including the passage of several propositions that will appear on the May 19th ballot. Since that time, California’s revenue projections have dropped by $8 billion and the propositions are experiencing stiff opposition. If they do not pass, the state will face a $14 billion shortfall in 2009-10, likely forcing further cuts to education. Accordingly, TTUSD is estimating its own budget shortfall next year to be between $3.2 to $4 million.

I know we all agree our most important resource is our employees. And the most important person in a child’s education, besides parents, is his or her teacher. Unfortunately, given that 80 percent of TTUSD’s expenses are employee related, when large budget reductions are needed, it is impossible to avoid cuts to staff, including teachers. The other contributing factors to our cost structure are small class sizes and small schools.

For TTUSD to balance its budget next year, very difficult trade-offs must be made. The district’s leadership team is working to squeeze savings out of every non-classroom area and looking to restructure to be more efficient, while still offering a quality education. Regrettably, we have no choice. Class sizes will increase and schools may be reconfigured in order to balance our budget and improve our educational model.-

What we do not know yet, is what form these changes will take. One scenario that has been considered is combining the middle schools in Truckee and the high schools at the Lake. The benefits to the educational program and the budget from this configuration are many, but we understand there is also a very large downside. The other scenarios being analyzed will not have as large an educational and financial benefit, but will mitigate the public’s concerns of excessive bus commutes and potential affects on the community. When those alternatives are fully developed and ready to be presented to the board, we will inform the community so you can give constructive feedback on the choices that must be made. We are targeting the week of April 20th for these meetings. The board’s decisions will not be easy or popular, but will be based on what is best for all 4,000-plus students.

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Our standards for excellence have not wavered and we remain optimistic about the future. We are focused on implementing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) district-wide, and encourage you to learn more about this proven educational model by visiting our website at http://www.ttusd.org. Academic excellence has always been a goal of our community. Working positively together will allow us to weather this storm and emerge better than before.

Steve Jennings is the Superintendent of the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.