Budget uncertainties affect school district

By Robert W. Graeff, Ed.D., Superintendent

On behalf of the Ramona Unified School District, I am writing the first of a series of open letters to the community detailing California’s current budget woes and how our schools are being affected.  As the weeks unfold, it is my hope to offer more of these letters in an effort to keep our children’s parents and the Ramona citizens informed about the state of our district’s tenuous financial challenges.

On New Year’s Eve, the governor presented to the State Legislature two proposals —massive budget cuts for the current school year and similar reductions for the school year beginning July 1 of 2009.  Even though no final action has yet been approved by the Legislature, school districts across the state are now immersed in work trying to plan for their financial survival.

In Ramona, we have already taken several important steps to conserve current-year resources in preparation for the state’s final decision related to mid-year cuts.  From our overall budget of $55 million, Ramona Unified stands to lose approximately $2.5 million during the current school year.  In preparation for this potential cut, we have already taken the following actions:

  1. Continued last year’s 30 percent reduction of supplies for all schools and departments and withheld an additional 25 percent for the remainder of the year.

  2. Slowed the process for filling open staff positions, including groundskeepers, custodians, bus drivers, library technicians, campus safety officers, and instructional aides.

  3. Left unfilled three administrative positions vacated last spring.

  4. Offered an Early Retirement Incentive to teachers with the hope of encouraging more veteran, higher-paid teachers to retire at the end of the school year.

  5. Issued a freeze on spending from several categorical budgets which ordinarily support classroom supply purchases, maintenance repairs, assistance for parents, support for low-achieving students, and purchases of instructional materials.

As a package, these savings should allow the district to conserve several hundred thousand dollars.  Together with cash savings, the district hopes to weather the financial storm in the current school year and assemble the anticipated reduction of $2.5 million being enacted by the state.  The “downside,” of course, is that these savings will not be available to support students and staff in our current efforts to improve teaching and learning.

At the same time, we are required to approve a responsible budget for the 2009-10 school year.  Using the majority of available cash reserves to survive the current year, a budget shortfall of more than $3 million for the coming school year will become more dependent on cutting existing programs and services.  Over the next several weeks, the governing board and administrative staff will be reviewing specific budget targets and potential cuts in order to balance next year’s budget.

Last week, I wrote letters to each of our local legislators and joined forces with all 42 school districts in the county in writing a joint letter to the governor.  Our message to all decision-makers in Sacramento is the same:

  1. Support proposals which generate increased revenue for K-12 public education. Attempting to resolve the state’s budget woes only on the side of reducing expenditures will absolutely cripple our local schools.

  2. Support the governor’s proposals centered on flexibility in categorical programs.  If Ramona Unified is going to have any hope of surviving pending budget reductions, we will be utterly dependent on backfilling budget holes in the general fund with categorical funds normally intended for very specific, supplemental programs. 

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