Tahoe Truckee school district assesses $3 million savings plan | SierraSun.com

Tahoe Truckee school district assesses $3 million savings plan

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Californiaand#8217;s slow-moving state legislature is making the Tahoe Truckee Unified School Districtand#8217;s attempt at balancing the budget an uncertain task.

Nearly $1.2 million of state funding for local schools is still up in the air as the legislature debates cutting billions from its own budget. To Steve Dickinson, assistant superintendent of business for the district, this means coming up with a range of solutions that could cover the a range between $2.6 and $3.8 million.

and#8220;… the state may take another $300,000 to $900,000 in transportation,and#8221; said Dickinson, explaining the uncertain gap. Another $300,000 could be taken by the state in other expense categories, he added. and#8220;Thereand#8217;s a big question mark about what weand#8217;re going to lose.and#8221;

In June, a state decision regarding basic aid school districts like the one in Truckee and North Tahoe, which rely on revenue mainly generated from property taxes, meant $2.6 million was removed from funding the district expected to receive. Dickinson was unsure whether additional state cuts like transportation and#8212; which are being debated non-stop in Sacramento and#8212; would be added on to, or just included, in the $2.6 million bill.

Dickinson presented the proposal to balance the 2009-2010 budget at Wednesday nightand#8217;s board budget workshop at the Sierra Mountain Community Education Center. Whatever the state legislature decides, he said, the deficit is likely to increase. He urged the board to balance the books.

In hopes of reaching a solution, the districtand#8217;s business chief devised a three-part plan that may cover the best case scenario.

Dickinsonand#8217;s three-part proposal asks the board to slash about $1 million in three areas and#8212; for an estimated savings $3 million.

The plan includes asking the districtand#8217;s multiple labor unions for a salary reduction and#8212; which could be accomplished by shortening the school year if the legislature approves such an action. The second facet is to reduce ongoing expenses by $1 million, and finally to take the last $1 million out of the districtand#8217;s reserves, which total about $4.5 million.

Board member Lisa Mohun said she approved of the plan on its face but expressed concerns about the numbers. Absent from Dickinsonand#8217;s layout was more than $1 million in restricted categorical funds and#8212; funds which were assigned in the 2009-10 budget approved in June for consulting and travel expenses, with the express purpose of moving them once it was clear those funds were available and not cut by the state.

and#8220;I have to know our bottom line before Iand#8217;ll make any decisions,and#8221; Mohun said. and#8220;All those categoricals, the hidden funds in the budget … I have a whole lot of questions.and#8221;

Fellow board members Bill Kraus and Kirsten Livak expressed similar sentiments.

Dickinson said the funds werenand#8217;t included in the presentation because of their lack of certainty. He said the funds might be a part of the fair share proposal give-back, in which case they would be lost. He agreed in the meeting to include the funds for the Aug. 5 board budget meeting.

Kraus said the difficulty to the three-part proposal was that the process to eliminate such a massive amount of funds is easier said than done, especially where labor is concerned.

and#8220;The difficulty is how can we get that $1 million?and#8221; Kraus said. and#8220;I can understand youand#8217;re coming from an accountantand#8217;s prospective, but there are some major cuts to be made.and#8221;

Dickinson said the board had an obligation to ask its employee groups for help in reducing the deficit.

and#8220;So far weand#8217;re only addressing how many (teachers) we have, and not how much they make,and#8221; Dickinson said.

Jon Halvorsen, vice president of the Tahoe Truckee Education Association, urged the board to include the union on potential cuts, rather than coming to the salary negotiation table asking for a cutback.

and#8220;Instead of coming and saying and#8216;hey, we need you guys to take cuts,and#8217; involve us in everything,and#8221; Halvorsen said.

Halvorsen also urged the board to hold true to its commitment of hiring back teachers for positions which have opened through a leave of absence or other reasons, as the board and union agreed to in a teacher layoff resolution earlier this year.

Dickinson also announced a plan Wednesday to bring more groups into the budget discussion. He said heand#8217;ll form a community budget committee, a 12-person panel designed to follow a once-monthly meeting basis.

and#8220;Iand#8217;m interested in getting input from their perspective so I can use them to build better budget reporting,and#8221; Dickinson said.

He said the group will be a non-formal body which cannot make decisions and will not discuss salary-negotiation issues. He said he envisions the paneland#8217;s assembly in September. It should include Dickinson, district director of business services Cyndy Spano, a district representative, union representatives from the TTEA and two other labor groups and six community members.

Dickinson said the group will gain insight on a public schooland#8217;s budget, which they can hopefully pass off to others in the district to increase understanding of the budget process.

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