Santa Paula Elementary District trustees are facing tough decisions

December 18, 2009
Santa Paula News

Just one week after learning the Santa Paula Elementary School District (SPESD) is facing big deficits, board members learned even more devastating financial news.

The board held a study session Monday evening at the Santa Paula Community Center, which was attended by about 200 district employees and community members.  Acting Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Moffett told the gathering that it appears the budget gap will be the biggest in 2011-2012, although the district is already facing a deficit of at least $2.3 million at the end of this school year.  “This is something we’ve not faced in 50 years in school districts in the state of California,” Moffett said.  “This is the biggest cut coming to education unless something happens very, very shortly.  We’re going to have to row in the same direction to make sure our school district is solvent.”

Moffett noted that the state is looking at a $21 billion dollar shortfall and education has taken the brunt of the cuts.  “We’ll also probably take more than our share the next time,” he added.  “We certainly hope not.”  Moffett said they can’t predict what’s going to happen with the governor’s budget or what the legislators response to this budget will be.  “Some of the decisions that this board will have to make will be probably some of the most difficult decisions they’ve ever made relevant to the school system in Santa Paula,” he also said.  

There are several important dates in the budget timeline.  The board approved a Qualified Interim Report last week. A Qualified Interim means that the district may not meet its obligations in the current and/or subsequent two years.  This week, the board held the first budget study session.  In January the governor’s proposed budget will come out and the SPESD board will hold another study session following that on January 26.  The district is required to issue a second Interim Report by March 15 of next year and layoff notices must be sent out to certificated personnel by the same date.  Final layoff notices must be sent out by the end of May.  Notices to classified personnel must also go out in May.  The board is required to adopt a budget by the end of June, when the fiscal year ends. 

District consultant Georgeann Brown told the board that with a $2.3 million dollar deficit it would require a salary reduction of between 12 and 15 percent across the board to make up the difference.  Another possible way to help make up for the deficit is to increase class size.  At a teacher-student ratio of 25-to-1, for example, 18 teaching positions would be lost and the net savings to the district would be about $613,000.  At a 27-to-1 it would mean 23 teaching positions eliminated at a net savings of $938,000.

Rais Abbasi, Director of Fiscal Services said they’ve put a complete freeze in place covering such things as hiring, overtime, extra duty, new furniture, new equipment, travel/conferences/workshops and food purchases.  Allowable expenses are (with the Superintendent’s approval): instructional supplies, safety/health related items, legally mandated expenses and replacements.

Dr. Moffett said he’s recommending that all unrestrictetd budgets be frozen for one month.  He said this would allow Cathy Bojorquez, the new Assistant Superintendent for business and finance to become familiar with the issues.  “We can dig ourselves out of this,” Bojorquez said.  “It’s going to require a lot of work.”

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