As budget concerns grip school districts across the state, the problems are likely to expand even faster than average. After years of enormous enrollment growth - Redwood Shores Elementary alone increased enrollment from 250 to 360 in just one year - for several years to come. Incoming School-Force President Matthew English aims to raise enough money to keep the district solvent and hopes to protect certain programs along the way.
Patch spoke to English about the issues School-Force faces during his one-year term as President. The following are excerpts from the Q&A. In some instances, edits have been made to both questions and answers for the sake of brevity and/or clarity:
What is the current state of the district, as it relates to the School-Force fundraising efforts?
The situation that we're in right now is that the district is forced to deficit spend and when you look out three or four years, there is a chance that we will be insolvent. If that happens, the county comes in and takes over and you lose complete control of your district until you pay off the debt. The only things you have left are the minimums that are mandated by law. To me, that just cannot happen.
Part of the funding dilemma is that our school districts are paid for by our property taxes. Our district is a basic aid district, so every new student that comes in without property taxes rising decreases the amount of money available on a per-student basis. Add to that rising operational costs, plus normal cost appreciation because of inflation, and the cost per student is rising really quickly.
In the past, we have been able to manage with rainy day reserves put aside during years of economic surplus, but those will be depleted in the next three years. The problem then will be the size of the hole - we're talking about multiple millions of dollars. We could effectively have a negative bank balance of around $5 million in the next three to five years.
What sorts of changes would you expect to see if the county took over the district?
Class size is an important one - in some cases it can go up to 32 students per class. Right now class size is at 25, when it used to be 20. We're passionate about keeping the ratio as good as possible for the kids. We also don't want to have furlough days. We don't want the kids to miss out on weeks of instruction.
At School-Force we're really passionate about music programs. We want to continue to have reading and science specialists that can come into the classrooms to help with certain topics. It is also really important to us that we support technology, deans at Ralston, and give the students the best classrooms they can have.
What are you excited about?
I'm excited to raise 3 to 4 million dollars. It's number one about educating our community, and then getting everyone to focus on moving in one direction that maximizes our ability to fundraise.
What are some of the specific things happening at School-Force?
There is a group, sponsored by the School Board, called the Fundraising Task Force that is made up of a cross section of our community - PTA's, Principals, teachers, School-Force, School Board, community members. They're working on recommendations about how to maximize our ability to fundraise. School-Force will strive to implement the task force's recommendation this year.
The second thing is that we are redesigning our board structure. We are giving seven board seats directly to the PTA, each of which designates a member to the board. This means that 1/3 of voting seats now go directly to the PTA. Our role is to be a leader in bringing together organizations with the same goals, and this helps us do that.
We are also improving the transparency of the School-Force process. We will be taking our show on the road, so to speak. Our board meetings will be held out in the community. We are making very public our board selection process and agendas, and so we're going out there so everyone in the community can get involved.
What else would you like to share with us?
Hope is not a viable strategy for our district. There are arguments that say that if we wait this [budget deficit] will solve itself, but time is not our friend in this case. We really need to start taking action. In some cases that action may be unpleasant or undesirable, but the way to handle it is as a team and I have a lot of faith in this community.
The next meeting of the School-Force board takes place on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 7pm in the at 2960 Hallmark Dr. Belmont, CA. For more information, visit the School-Force website.