School officials: Mid-year cuts may come soon | SierraSun.com

School officials: Mid-year cuts may come soon

Rene ShadforthSierra Sun

After just two weeks of school, families in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District have felt the effects of this year’s budget cuts.Parent Chris McPeak told the school board last week that her child would be involuntarily transferred from Tahoe Lake Elementary to Coldstream Alternative School after the second week of school. The child’s class had four students too many. They will all have to attend another school to maintain a small class size and the leaner staffing numbers called for in this year’s budget.Another parent was angry that her sons’ bus stop had been moved from the front of her home to Sugar Pine Campground one mile away, which she said is an unsafe place for her children to wait for the bus. The district moved the bus stop because this year’s 10 percent reduction in transportation costs.There have been sacrifices, but the district has avoided making the unpopular changes so far – like increasing class sizes and charging for transportation.But school district officials warn that those cutbacks and expenses may be on the horizon, and they may come as soon as January. Tahoe Truckee Unified has cut more than $3.4 million from its annual $34 million budget in two years, and there have been two years of deficit spending and a third year may be on the way.The mid-year cuts may be necessary for the district to rebuild its reserve for times of economic uncertainty, which the school board sliced in half this year to delay more draconian cuts.”It’s something we have to turn around; we don’t have a choice,” said Ralph Johnson, school district assistant superintendent of business.This year, the Placer County Office of Education allowed its districts, including Tahoe Truckee Unified, to have a 1.5 percent reserve instead of the usual 3 percent requirement to compensate for decreased funding from the state. Next year, the school district will have to re-build that reserve.Mid-year cuts will be necessary if the school district’s reserve drops below 1.5 percent, Johnson said, but first he has to see county property tax projections.Possible positive: basic aid statusAt the end of last year, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District achieved basic aid status, meaning the district’s county property tax revenues exceeded the amount of money it received from the state.This is good news because Tahoe Truckee Unified, a declining enrollment district, won’t be dependent on the state’s per-pupil dollars, which have been wishy-washy at times, Johnson said. Now the district will receive those funds from the area’s increasing property tax revenue.However, district officials won’t know how much Tahoe Truckee Unified might receive from property taxes until Nov. 15.”It’s really an unknown right now,” Johnson said. “We have to be prepared, and that may mean some spending adjustments.”In the coming months, district officials will turn to the Budget Review Committee to prioritize reductions for the 2005-06 school year. The committee is comprised of community members, administrators, district employees and school site representatives.Parents should contact their school site administrators if they are interested in participating on the Budget Review Committee.SIDEBAR:Icing or significant piece of the pie?In March 2005, the school district’s four-year parcel tax, or Measure A, will be up for renewal for the fifth time.Some district officials say the programs Measure A has funded in the past may not be as applicable today, with the state’s cuts to public education.”If we find ourselves going to voters when programs may be cut, core programs may be hurt, while Measure A will be providing the icing,” said school board President Cindy Gustafson.Measure A, a local $80 parcel tax assessment, provides $2.7 million to the school district each year. It pays for items ranging from music instruction to science equipment that the state does not provide.With decreased funding from the state, Measure A has become more necessary to maintain programs in the schools, said school district Assistant Superintendent Ralph Johnson said.”It’s becoming a large and significant portion of the district’s ending fund balance,” Johnson said.Currently, the Measure A Citizens’ Review Committee is compiling data from a community survey for the March election. The survey asks voters which programs they want Measure A to fund and if they are willing to pay more for the assessment.The ballot initiative will need a two-thirds majority to pass.On the NetSchool Measure A report cards:http://www.ttusd.org/board/measureareportcards.htm