Tough budget times ahead for schools

   In my first set of fiscal comments to the community since late last spring, let me take this opportunity to let all Ramonans know where our district stands in terms of preparing our local budget for the coming school year.

   First, however, let me take a moment to commend our entire educational community. In the implementation of our current District Goals, I am joined by the governing board in marveling at the energy, passion, and remarkably upbeat spirit that continues to characterize our entire staff and parent community as we all work together to serve the educational and personal needs of our more than 6,500 students. As I regularly talk with members of the community-at-large, it is readily apparent that the families of our more than 6,500 students have a deep-seated desire to do whatever it takes to help our students achieve.

Recent economic news

   As our stakeholders may recall, however, the national and state economic conditions last spring required us to trim more than $6.1 million from our local district budget—equating to more than a 10 percent reduction in overall spending. In spite of an infusion of federal stimulus dollars from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which is detailed on our District website, we were still forced last spring to eliminate a significant number of teaching, classified and administrative services to the students and families of our district.   Although it is only November and the governor is not due to release his budget proposal for 2010-11 until January, district officials are already planning for another very challenging budget year.

   Here is the little that we know already about the upcoming budget process.  In the past several days, the California Department of Finance has announced that General Fund revenues for the current year are already $2.1 billion short of projection, with personal income tax receipts down by more than 19 percent. With corporate taxes coming in it at nearly 11 percent below projection and statewide unemployment hovering around 12 percent, state officials announced last week that they are projecting that the state will have a $7 billion shortfall for the current school year and an additional $7.5 billion shortfall for the 2010-11 fiscal year.  

   During the recent summer months, we were projecting that our local budget situation for 2010-11 would be short by $1.9 million in meeting local budget demands. With deteriorating conditions in the state, however, this local shortfall figure could easily worsen. With this backdrop in mind, staff has been working with the governing board to take several important steps to safeguard the district’s resources.

Current district budget approach

   First, the board approved a staff recommendation on Oct. 29 to authorize an Early Retirement/Resignation Incentive for teachers.  If enough eligible teachers participate in this unique opportunity, the district could register as much as $1.5 million in budget savings over the next 18 months. Even though we certainly want to recognize the tremendous contributions provided to our school children over the past several decades by our veteran teachers, this effort is both an attempt to support staff members in achieving an important milestone in their lives and an essential strategy to safeguard the district’s resources for the years to come.

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