Forums look at sticky issue of budget cuts | January 16, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - January 16, 2009

Forums look at sticky issue of budget cuts

School district seeks parent input on response to state cutbacks

by Geoff Gillette

With the state's funding issues worsening, officials with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District are looking at the possibility of getting the parcel tax back on the ballot as a means of combating what are expected to be severe cutbacks.

Rather than just move forward and put the issue back on the ballot, district officials chose to hold a quartet of informational forums designed to explain the issues to residents and to get their feedback on how best to resolve the situation.

Nearly 200 people turned out for the first session, held Jan. 12 at San Ramon Valley High School. Parents, teachers and administrators packed into the cafeteria at the high school to hear the prognosis from Superintendent Steve Enoch.

"The purpose of this forum is to get the word out, explain the budget crisis, and to provide an opportunity for staff and community feedback, get ideas and suggestions," he said.

Enoch said he was aware of the state's financial woes, but it wasn't until recently that it really struck home for him.

"My 'ah-ha' moment came about three weeks ago. The governors were meeting with (President-Elect) Obama and listing off their deficits," he recalled. Most of the states had single digit billions of deficit, while California stood out with a $42 billion figure. "That hit me. That took my breath away."

The governor has proposed a plan to deal with the deficit, but it would result in $18 billion in cuts statewide. What does that mean for schools in the SRVUSD? Enoch said they could be seeing a cut in funding from $14 million-$16 million. With the revenue lost this year from the expiring parcel tax, the district would also be down an additional $4.2 million.

The San Ramon school district has an annual budget of $212 million. Of those funds, 86 percent goes to pay for classified and certificated employees, as well as employee benefits. Between the loss of state revenue and the parcel tax, that would be a decrease of just under 10 percent.

Enoch said that they have already been making cuts during the past two years and he offered kudos to the district and the school board in how they've been making those cuts.

"They've tried to keep cuts away from the classroom," he said. "I applaud them but I will also tell you that it's hard to maintain that as we continue cutting."

The governor has suggested the schools can save money by reducing the school year from 180 to 175 days, as well as by allowing the district to dip more deeply into its reserves. Currently all districts are required to maintain reserves that are 3 percent of their operating budget. The proposal would drop that mandatory reserve to 1.5 percent of the annual budget.

Enoch said that would give them some leeway but he's not sure that is the safest route to take. "The reserves can be cut in half, which my fiscal friends say makes them nervous."

Enoch said he is hopeful that there will be some positive news coming out of Sacramento in the next few weeks, but they are preparing for the worst. The district has already frozen all non-critical spending and hiring, banned all overnight workshops and conferences paid for by the district, and suspended bargaining related to new costs.

Another way to prepare for a worsening funding situation is to seek help from the voters, through a renewal of the parcel tax expiring this year.

"A parcel tax is hard to pass," Enoch noted. "You have to have 66.6 percent to pass. It's never an easy row to hoe."

The school board will need to make decisions regarding how much it should ask for in a new parcel tax. The tax expiring this year is $98. Measure D, which was on the ballot last year, asked for $166 and failed, garnering only 63 percent of the vote.

Once Enoch finished his presentation, those in attendance were split into groups of 20 in classrooms throughout the high school. Working with a facilitator, each group worked on what issues and questions the school board should be considering in getting the tax on the ballot and where cuts should fall if it fails.

Some of the issues raised included:

* revisiting the state's funding formula for school districts

* qualified teachers leaving the state for better funded districts

* loosening restrictions on how funds can be spent

* targeting more information at residents without children in school

* class sizes and loss of programs such as music

* loss of technology

Facilitators will take the questions and comments and bring them to the school board for consideration. Another forum was held Thursday at California High . Two more will be held next week: Jan. 20 at Monte Vista High , and Jan. 22 at Dougherty Valley High.

People with questions regarding the funding shortfall or the proposed parcel tax being considered can contact the district for further information or e-mail the San Ramon Valley Council of PTA's at