School district’s dilemma is community’s dilemma

By Dave Patterson

The Ramona school board was gracious enough to invite the public to a review of the long-term district finances, Saturday, Aug. 17. The school district presentation was foreboding as all the recent cuts and labor negotiations barely pushed it into the black this year. In 2014~15 they are looking at a $3.3 million deficit and growing into the future.

They told us that the site budgets have already been cut by 50 percent, which explains why it rains on some students through leaky roofs. The district has faced a loss of students over the last decade, and with the reduction of total funds including developer fees adds up to almost $10 million in operating funds less than they had in previous years.

On top of the problem of insufficient funds comes the COP loan taken out by the previous school board, approximately $50 million including interest to pay off on schedule. The payments for this ill-taken loan must be paid before anything else from the General Fund. Annual payments will increase from $1.7 million next year to $3.4 million in 2030. It’s hard to make ballooning payments when you have deficit spending already.

According to the superintendent, any of the district’s ideas, including selling properties and/or closing or consolidation of schools, is a two-year solution at best. This is not the way to operate a school district, because with such an outlook people will be moving their kids out of town and teachers will be running away as well. This district is badly in need of leadership and action plans to stop the hemorrhaging. I would assign the description Apocalyptic.

The discussion moved to closing schools, and selling unused property. Ramona Elementary (RE), where my kids went to school, was apparently the first on everyone’s mind. I suppose because it’s the oldest and is part of a several block property from D to I streets, potentially a valuable asset.

The point was made, however, that most of the people that have kids at RE do not have money to pay to have their kids transported to other schools. Additionally, closing a school where most of the students walk to and from does not make sense.

If we apply the same logic, it would behoove us to close an elementary school where most of the busing occurs and isn’t that the new facility on Boundary? Perhaps closing the newest school in Ramona will prove more practical, ironically. That is, if anyone is listening.

I found disappointing the inclination of everyone to focus on the methodology of making a school bond pass, rather than alternative methods of resolving the district’s problems.

It is true that a bond will resolve the fiscal problems, but when I asked that the district include a contingency plan in the bond language that will force them to do what’s necessary if the bond fails again, no one seemed interested. My suggestion is to include language that mandates the surrender of the school district to the state if the school bond doesn’t pass. I made this suggestion out of frustration that the district seems to be without vision and resolve when facing the current problems, and hoping that a bond will pass doesn’t seem to be working.

There were a few other ideas, like refinancing the COP debt, available in 2017, but can we bail water fast enough until then?

One thing is certain. If the fiscal woes of this school district aren’t corrected in short order, the employees and students of the district will face a long-term degradation that will help no one.

Realtors and property owners, take notice! We all have too much to lose.

Dave Patterson is a Ramona resident.

Related posts:

  1. Letter to editor: Prop. R dilemma
  2. School finances topic of community workshop
  3. School district needs community support
  4. At What Price Does Ramona Pay for Public Education?
  5. School district OKs $49.6M budget

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Posted by Maureen Robertson on Aug 22 2013. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

7 Comments for “School district’s dilemma is community’s dilemma”

  1. Jane Tanaka MD

    Dave- Yes, the School District's dilemma is Ramona's dilemma.Each person in the community is effected, and can help.Whatever makes our town , our schools more attractive, safer,, healthier and more desirable to folks with kids who currently live elsewhere, so that they move to Ramona benefits RUSD financially. There are some who want nothing to do with the school district, but undeniably even if you homeschool your kids or dont have kids, the fiscal health of our school district, the largest employer in Ramona, effects everyone. I know of local veteran teachers who voted against Prop R because of resentment and distrust of the district administration and board. One current RUSD employee at the community workshop said she would not vote for a bond due to waste, such as a room full of extinct computers One homeschooling parent said he would call all of his friends to make sure they voted against a school bond.Everyone has some issue with the district.Mine last year was Dr Graeff's step and column increase.( Which he actually gave back 2 fold via paying $800 plus monthly for his health benefit.)

  2. Jane Tanaka MD

    But if let our individual gripes be reasons to not support the district, and dont form a grassroots movement to get a Bond passed during the next election, then most likely RUSD will become insolvent. That means strangers from the state government, nicknamed "school czars" take over. Parents in Oakland, called them "absentee landlords." And its no financial fix.. we'd still would have to pay back the COP debt to the State for bailing us out. Talk about taxation without representation. Your remark about making Ramona realize, when they vote on a future school bond, that the alternative is insolvency, did not fall on deaf ears, Dave. Mr Stoody is determined to prevent insolvency by refinancing the COP loan in 2017…. but that may be too late.

  3. Jane Tanaka MD

    Yes, sell some school property… yes consolidate adminstrative positions, yes hire more custodians so that our school campuses can be restored, yes consider having the school bus system double as a local Ramona public transit while kids are in school. No, dont mess with Ramona Elementary.. or you mess with Carmen Bedia, highly respected Ramona educator.But above all, RUSD needs to build trust again with its own employees, and with the parents and the rest of the community. In this way will a grassroots movement will grow.

  4. Concerned Resident

    I found a couple of points in your post particularly interesting. “The reduction of total funds including developer fees adds up to almost $10 million in operating funds less”. Why would developer fees be used for operations? One would expect that developer fees would be used for infrastructure to support new students while operating expenses for those students would be funded through the ADA allocation. Even more disturbing is the discussion surrounding RE. I remember years ago, before Barnett was built, when the District asked the public to weigh in on the location of a new school site. All of the data suggested that the east end of town was where the need was greatest and also where existing infrastructure already existed to support the site – sewer, power, etc. Yet, each point to building on the east side was dismissed by the District in favor of the east side. I find it ironic that the same people who insisted on building a school on the west end of town are the same people who are now so concerned over the RE kids not being able to transport there. Trust is the issue here: the same people who have mismanaged taxpayer funds want us to give them more through a bond.

  5. Guest

    the fact that only 40 people showed up for this town hall meeting speaks volumes. The taxpayers do not trust the current leadership.

  6. Not Fooled

    MS Tanaka. Why is it you mention that Greaff offset his raise by agreeing to contribute to his health benefits without disclosing that the contract gave ALT members an ADDITIONAL FIVE Days of paid vacation in return for those contributions to benefits and that some ALT members waive their benes yet the would STILL get the extra 5 days paid time off. Isn't it true that an analysis by Ramona Parents Coalition found that the net result of this arrangement is actually a 2% increase in overall compensation for ALT while teachers and staff took pay cuts? It goes to the trust issue that remains unresolved

  7. Concerned Resident

    Those of us who have been here long enough know that this so-called forum was nothing more than the District's standard dog-and-pony show. They do not truly want our input. They have one goal; get a bond passed. You can tell by this article that the District has dismissed every alternative solution. It's about time they faced the fact that the community does not trust the District to make the obvious changes needed. Until they do, we won't trust them with another dime of our money. Time to start dealing with the real world and get out of their educational establishment fantasy world. Maybe it is time to clean house and bring in a staff that understands how the real world works.

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