TTUSD out of budget crunch |

TTUSD out of budget crunch

Two years ago, the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District was in financial crisis – it experienced an almost $1 million shortfall in revenue during the 1998-99 school year, lost nearly 250 students in enrollment and a state Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FICMAT) came to the district to analyze its revenue and expenditures. A three year plan was developed to bring the TTUSD budget back to health.

Today, school district staff report that its budget is no longer in crisis.

“We believe right now that we will have achieved financial health by the end of this school year,” TTUSD Superintendent Pat Gemma said. “That is because we have been very proactive in the last two years to gain more revenue and decrease and control costs.”

Cuts like 2.5 custodial positions, two maintenance positions, district office clerical staff, $200,000 in office and instructional supplies, $50,000 in the athletics budget in this year’s budget as well as examining electives spending, have helped the district reach the state required 3 percent reserve in its budget. At the same time, the district was able to reduce class sizes in the fourth and fifth grade. Funding from the state in snow removal and declining enrollment also helped enable the district to bring its budget out of crisis.

While employees received a negotiated 8 percent salary increase during the 1998-99 school year, this year they only received a 1.41 percent salary increase, which helped tighten the district’s spending as well. The Excellence in Education Foundation’s Program Continuation Fund and Northstar Ski Day fund-raiser also contributed approximately $20,000 to the budget.

Gemma said district staff are happy with the fact that the budget is back to financial health one year before the plan ends, but they also realize they need to bring back cuts they made and hope to provide a reasonable salary increase in the 2000-01 budget.

“We can’t live with these cuts forever, we’ve got to bring them back,” Gemma said. “We believe we will be able to do this if we don’t see a major decrease in enrollment or some other financial catastrophe.”

TTUSD director of business services Monty Folsom said state legislation helps make that situation unlikely.

“Legislation that we are proactive in getting passed should mitigate any decline in future enrollment,” Folsom said. “We’re hopeful the state is going to provide additional resources to the schools.

Gemma attributes much of the success in solving the budget crisis to employees, the community and board leadership.

“Our strategy to tackle this financial crisis as an entire community without trying to find one organization to blame has paid off,” he said. “The drastic measures we had to take were shared across all spectrums of the district. I’m very appreciative of the employees, the parent community and the board leadership that allowed this problem to be solved in such a short time period.”

Gemma first came to district in August 1998, just when TTUSD was hit with declining enrollment and lost students to Prosser Creek Charter School. The turnaround in such a short period of time has not only surprised himself, but school board representatives and other district staff as well.

“I am surprised,” TTUSD board president Suzanne Prouty said. “It’s hard to turn around easily from any losses like that in any business and I think of the school district as a business … He (Gemma) has really brought our fiscal budget back to health a whole year early. He’s involved the community at large and he’s really engaged them. The fact that we’re gong to maintain our reserve is due to his shrewd business handling and astute leadership.”

Moving out of financial crisis has been a learning experience for board members Prouty said.

“We’ve been through a huge learning curve,” board member Karen Van Epps said. “What’s been so positive is we’ve analyzed how we spend our money. It was always our goal to make the cuts furthest away from the students and the classroom. It’s been tough to do that when everything we do affects the students.”

Van Epps said the district will have to watch enrollment very closely and be prepared to make change when needed.

“We still deal with this population that moves in and out of the area. To open our school doors in September and know what our enrollment will be is real hard for us,” Van Epps said.

Concerns for class size still exist, Van Epps said, and the district will have to continue to be smart and frugal.

“I think it has been an extremely valuable time for us,” she said. “We now have to sell what we have to offer and we have to listen to our clients. That will make us successful. The bottom line is what’s best for our children.”

The next step is to focus on improving curriculum and preparing for the increased operational costs with new school facilities and modernization projects that are currently in the works.

“With the major emergency of the budget now having been dealt with, office staff can concentrate on improvement to the curriculum and the planning for high quality school facilities that will us on for the next 25 years,” Gemma said.

The Fiscal Review Committee will be called back together to look at the district’s long-range plan to afford increased operational costs. The increased costs are estimated to be approximately $900,000.

Folsom said the district is currently half way through the budget cycle for the 2000-2001 budget, and is waiting for the May revision.

“The actual projected revenues haven’t yet been defined,” he said. The critical things to know developing the budget include the previous year’s ending balance, the governor’s budget and enrollment.

Tonight’s regular board meeting

Tonight’s regular board meeting will be held at Kings Beach Elementary School, located at 8125 Steelhead in Kings Beach, beginning on 6:30 p.m.

Items for discussion include a progress report on the dual immersion program at Kings Beach Elementary School as well as the first reading of the revised board policy.

Action items include approval for:

– Criteria for allocation of bond funds

– Education Specifications documents and enclosed budgets for the Kings Beach Student Activity Center

– 3-year school calender

– agreement with Early Head Start to augment the STEPP Program

For information on the meeting, call the district office at 582-7600 or view the district’s website:

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