School district may have to cut another $2.6 million

Kyle Magin
Sierra Sun

TRUCKEE and#8212; A Wednesday proposal could leave the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District another $2.6 million short for next year’s budget.

The district and#8212; preparing for a worst-case deficit of $4 million and#8212; already has cut $3.7 million from the 2009-2010 budget through a mix of teacher layoffs, salary cuts and measures aimed at increasing district revenue.

Steve Dickinson, school district assistant superintendent of finance, said Wednesday’s proposal is proof the moving target that is the 2009-2010 budget is not stopping.

and#8220;We knew the numbers would change, that’s the nature of state government,and#8221; Dickinson said Thursday. and#8220;But they continue to get worse.and#8221;

Dickinson, sitting in an office filled with statistics and numbers in the back of the school district’s Truckee administration building, said the proposal’s staggering cuts are actually preferable to other options, as hard as it is to comprehend.

Wednesday’s proposal and#8212; issued by the Schools For Sound Finance, a group representing basic aid school districts in Sacramento, Calif. and#8212; calls for a $637 cut in the per-pupil funding that unified basic aid school districts such as TTUSD receive from California.

It is a preemptive measure, Dickinson said, in hopes lawmakers won’t come after more basic aid funding while revenue limit school districts suffer.

Revenue limit school districts receive only state funding, while basic aid school districts receive local property taxes and some categorical state funding.

Christine Carter, superintendent of Reed Union schools and the Northern California vice president of Schools for Sound Finance, said the proposal is about instilling equity between basic aid and revenue limit districts.

“The idea is that we can’t have basic aid districts not taking reductions while their neighboring districts crumble,” Carter said. “But also, we want to have some equity in the situation, so we don’t get hit harder than anyone else.”

Truckee Tahoe officials have maintained basic aid districts are much better off than their revenue limit counterparts because although property tax growth is slowing, a positive trend is still projected for the upcoming year, while revenue limit districts are solely beholden to California’s budget swings.

The idea of the measure, according to the Wednesday proposal, is to offer a and#8220;fair share cutand#8221; to reduce state funding given to basic aid districts at the same rate revenue limit districts have been cut.

and#8220;This sets the precedent that basic aid districts will always be cut equally when there are cuts to revenue limit districts,and#8221; Dickinson said.

The hope is that the offering and#8212; about 5 percent of the district’s $50 million operating budget and#8212; will placate the legislature and prevent Sacramento from turning every basic aid district into a revenue limit district, Dickinson said.

The reduction is a hard to fathom, said school district Superintendent Steve Jennings.

and#8220;My first reaction to this was that I needed to time to internalize things and come to grips with reality,and#8221; Jennings said. and#8220;This is big to us, but it’s important to remember other districts have been hit as hard if not harder. Still, it’s tough to process.and#8221;

If legislators accepted the proposal, the district’s new worse-case scenario would total about $6.3 million. Still, Dickinson cautioned, a reduction of that size may not be the end of the cuts.

and#8220;It’s a moving target,and#8221; Dickinson said. and#8220;I want to stress that everything is still up in the air.and#8221;

That means every school district cut is back on the table if a reduction of this size comes to fruition, Dickinson said. While the current budget will progress without change and#8212; the board-approved $3.7 million in reductions and#8212; Dickinson said the $2.6 million would need to come quickly, before the summer is out.

Reserve funds of about $1.5 million in reserves past the 3 percent of the budget they are required to hold are one option to stop the bleeding a bit, and Dickinson said he’d like to increase the reserve fund even more this year if possible.

Jennings said if the proposal were approved, staff would begin to identify cuts immediately.

and#8220;We’d want to get on them right away,and#8221; Jennings said. and#8220;The longer you wait into the school year, the more money you’ve already spent and the fewer opportunities you have to cut. Everything will be back on the table.and#8221;

Dickinson said finding another $2.6 million in savings would be difficult, and every program which was previously considered and not cut from would probably be among the first to go.

Further cuts to teaching positions aren’t likely, said Dickinson. The district’s final layoff resolution included about 30 teachers, who by state law had to be noticed of their layoff by May 15, unless the legislature were to extend that deadline.

Carter said the legislature may act on the proposal next week, but said the timeline isn’t certain at all.

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