At a meeting that was filled with lots of positive news--a thriving Healthy Schools initiative, a promising homework policy, and the overall positive academic achievement in the district, the reality of the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District's (BRSSD) operating budget for 2012-13 and beyond cast somber mood over the boardroom Thursday night.
Belmont-Redwood Shores School District interim co-superintendent Nellie Hungerford gave the board of trustees an overview of the current budget situation wrapped in a crash course in the complicated world of public school finance.
"The district can no longer sustain these losses and remain solvent past 2014-15," said Hungerford. "If the district continues at its current rate of revenues vs. expenditures, Hungerford says all reserves will be depleted in 2015-16 and the district will not be able to retain the state-required three percent reserve."
Based on recommendations by the district's budget finance committee, Hungerford and co-superintendent Dr. Suzanne Roy advised board to consider furlough days and increasing class sizes as possible stopgap measures for the district's immediate budget woes. Although the state allows up to 20 furlough days in a school year, a set number for BRSSD was not discussed.
According to the BRSSD Budget Update document that supported Hungerford's presentation, the current school year "represents the fifth year of the deepest sustained cuts ever made to public education in California." That combined with flat property tax revenues, the loss of redevelopment agencies, and increased need of funding for special education, and the upcoming completion of the district's two parcel taxes have forced the district to make some tough choices. Then throw in the Proposition 30 ballot measure, that, if not passed in November, would also have a tremendous impact on the district.
Referring to Proposition 30, Hungerford cautioned, "It is imperative that this measure pass to stop the bleeding and stop the $457 per student cut. If we continue to have to pay this 'fair share' and property taxes remain flat, we won't be able to remain solvent after 2014-15."
The fair share Hungeford referred to is currently $1.9 million; if Prop 30 fails, the district's fair share could potentially be raised to $3.4 million.
"Our biggest challenge is enrollment growth," said Hungerford, citing an increase of 1000 students since 2007. With more students to educate and no more money coming in from the state, the district is operating at a deficit.
"For every student we get, we absorb the cost in our property taxes, and our tax base is flat," she added.
Budget advisory committee member Suzette Gulsen addressed to board to explain the rationale behind the committee's recommendations of furlough days and increased class sizes.
"You can cut every School-Force funded program, and every PTA funded program and it still would not be enough," said Gulsen. There is no where else to turn. Furlough days and increased class sizes are the only things that can fill this hole. We just don't have discretionary spending that will add up to the $5 million we need."
Board of trustees president Brian Matthews emphasized the need for community outreach and getting people to talk about the district's financial situation. "When you cut in Washington and you cut in Sacramento, it's our cities, towns and schools that take the hit. So we have to engage the community in self-help," said Matthews.
The board and the district staff praised School-Force and PTAs for their efforts in fundraising.
"They have saved the district over the last five years," said Hungerford.
"This is a balancing act, and School-Force and the PTA's will be raising as much as they can. They have been so faithful and have come through in so many unique ways."
Belmont resident Jeff Selman is a parent in the district and served on the parcel tax committee and as counsel to School-Force. "This is a local problem, and whether we like it or not, we're going to have to come up with $5 million dollars over the next four years--and that's the message we need to get out to the community."
Matthews said the next step would be to meet with the broader community to help get the message out and negotiate with employee groups and teachers' unions to explore the furlough days and increased class size.
"Everybody has skin in this game at one level or another. Once we tell people what the problem is and give them some possible solutions, they'll do what needs to be done," said Matthews.