Schools address deflated budgets
After a year filled with financial potholes and bumps in the road, the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is gearing up for another rough ride, as the board was scheduled to adopt the district budget for the 2002-03 school year at a special meeting Thursday night, which took place after The Sierra Sun’s deadline.
“We’ve definitely got a challenging year ahead of us,” said Bob Nehls, director of Business Services for the district. “We’re funded almost entirely by the state of California, and right now, the state is predicting its worst economic year in 30 years with as much as a $24 billion deficit.”
The district has already felt the sting of the State’s financial woes when it was hit with unprecedented mid-year state cuts for education.
Those cuts, which amounted to roughly $150,000, coupled with TTUSD’s continued decline in student enrollment, have forced the district to tighten its belt.
“This year, we experienced deficit spending, in which we spent about a half -million dollars more than we took in in revenues,” Nehls said.
When the books close in September, Nehls said the district is predicted to have deficit spent by about $720,000 and end up with a 3.5-3.8 percent ($1,292,812) reserve for economic uncertainties, as opposed to the district’s desired 4 percent it began the year with.
“We’re expecting to see a similar situation of deficit spending by about $543,000 next year, as well,” Nehls said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to find ways to reduce that number. We’ve already made $900,000 in cuts.”
Those cost-saving measures include increasing student-teacher ratios in secondary schools from 28-to-1 to 29-to-1, closing the district office to the public one day per week and other cuts at the administrative level.
“Higher class sizes could mean less choices for our students in grades six through 12, although we won’t really know anything until we get our fall enrollment numbers,” Nehls said.
Last year, the district lost roughly, 80 students, which amounts to a loss in revenue by about $371,000.
“Next year, we’re projected to lose another 40, which means we’ll have seen four years of continued decline,” Nehls said. “The good news is that the decline appears to be slowing, as we’ve lost less and less students each year. I think we’re coming out of this period.”
Another encouraging piece of information is that, based on estimated actuals and budget assumptions, the district’s reserve for economic uncertainties is expected to remain relatively the same – about 3.67 percent or $1,231,957. The state requires that a minimum of 3 percent be maintained.
“And those estimates include all of the expected employee salary increases,” Nehls said. “Even though we’ve yet to settle a contract with some of our employee groups, we factored in salary increases and packages similar to that of the TTEA’s. We had no intent that those numbers would come out exactly, but we had to factor something in.”
Nehls also said the budget was much more a plan than something set in stone.
“The budget is extremely dynamic and will likely be revised based on three things including: the number of students which actually show up in the fall – which we won’t know until school starts, the state’s budget – which has yet to be decided, and the amount we end up when we close the books for the 2001-02 school year in September,” Nehls said.
Nehls stressed the difficulty of crafting a budget without knowing these factors.
“We have to do it now because the state requires us to adopt a budget on or before June 30,” he said. “Technically, the state is supposed to adopt its budget by July 1, but that seems extremely unlikely particularly because of the current economic state of affairs. I think it’s much more likely that we’ll see something from the State at the end of July.”
Nehls said he expects to bring major budget revisions before the board for approval sometime in mid-late September.
Despite the obvious challenges, Nehls remains optimistic.
“Usually, a state financial crisis like this would mean a crisis for public school district’s like ours, but Gov. Davis has continued to make education his highest priority,” Nehls said. “Even though education is being protected to a certain extent, we’ve still got to be careful, though. Really, we won’t have a good idea of how our year is going to shape up until the State adopts its budget. Until then, I’m on my computer everyday, keeping a close watch on what’s happening in Sacramento.”
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