One word Ramona school board members hear a lot lately is “declining”—declining enrollment, which means declining money, which results in declining employee totals.
But that didn’t stop Ramona Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Robert Graeff from putting the word “enthusiasm” at the top of his Convocation 2009 presentation to district employees last Thursday morning. While the district faced the fallout of the national and state economy in the past year, it “focused on the kids,” Graeff told employees in his “Maintaining enthusiasm in the face of grim reality” presentation.
That evening at the school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent/Administrative Services David Ostermann presented what he referred to as the “rollercoaster ride of events and changing (budget) information” from the state.
On Monday, the first day of classes for the 2009-10 year, 6,383 students arrived, 52 fewer than the 6,435 projected. Last year, the count was 6,602. In 2001-02, enrollment was 7,271.
Students mean money to a public school district. California funds districts based on student attendance, also known as Average Daily Attendance (ADA). Last year, Ramona’s public schools received $8,995 per ADA from the state and federal governments. This year’s estimate is $8,118, said Ostermann, stressing the word estimate.
One-time federal stimulus money of about $2.2 million boosted this year’s ADA total. Without it, the district would receive about $7,664 per ADA, explained Ostermann.
The economic downturn and declining enrollment trend prompted the district to offer a retirement incentive of $6,000 per year for five years to teachers and other non-management certificated employees. Eighteen teachers who had been with the district for years and thus received higher salaries retired.
Those retirements reduced the number of teachers receiving final layoff notices last year. Of the 11 receiving the layoff notices, three were called back by the district. One of them, high school math teacher Kylie Harris, had already accepted a job with another district, so the district hired Tehra Lynn to take her place, said Assistant Superintendent/Human Resources Dr. Joe Annicharico.
Seven teachers not called back are elementary teachers, and enrollment was the key reason, said Annicharico. The declining enrollment trend is at the elementary school level.
By the start of the school year last August, all teachers who had received final layoff notices in spring 2008 were called back, and Donna Braye-Romero, president of the Ramona Teachers Association, said the union had hoped all would return this year.
“We were all disappointed,” she told the school board. “We had anticipated they were going to be back. It was kind of looking hopeful, now it’s a little iffy, so we’re pulling for that and we’re pulling for more students to show up at Ramona Elementary and Mt. Woodson (Elementary).”
Annicharico said there is a possibility that two or three more teachers will be asked to return. More students traditionally arrive during the first week or two of school.
The district’s non-teaching employees such as janitors and campus and teacher aides took a bigger hit, with 21 receiving final layoff notices in the spring. Of those, seven are back, said Annicharico.
The district employs 723 people: 380 non-teaching/non-certificated, 31 management, 282 classroom teachers and 30 certificated employees such as counselors and speech therapists, reported Annicharico. That is down from 793 last year, he added.
In his 33-slide PowerPoint budget presentation last Thursday, Ostermann outlined a timeline of the state’s fiscal crisis since the summer of 2008 and what it means to Ramona.
“Before the ink is dry, the budget is out of balance,” he said of the 2008-09 state fiscal plan.
Special sessions of the California Legislature resulted in a budget revision in February 2009 that included two years—’08-09 and ‘09-10.
“Again, immediately after the budget is signed, it becomes out of balance,” said Ostermann, calling the budget a moving target.
Declining state revenue affected the Proposition 98 minimum guarantee for schools, and the governor presented two new budget proposals, one on May 14 and one on May 29.
“That forces school districts to make their budget projections based upon these proposals,” said Ostermann. “...It was all over the place.”
By law, school district’s must pass a budget by June 30. On June 18, Ramona school board approved a budget showing $50.7 in income and $51.1 million in expenses.
The state budget approved in July was different from the May proposals.
“This year everything’s been turned upside down,” Ostermann told trustees at the school board meeting.
The state gave districts more flexibility with money that previously was restricted for specific purposes. That and the federal stimulus money left the district with a higher ending balance for 2008-09 than anticipated—$4,509,891—Ostermann reported.
With the ending balance, the district should have the resource for any potential mid-year cuts in the 2009-10 budget year that started on July 1, Ostermann said.
His projection is the district will end the current year with $2.57 million, but, he said, salary, benefit and other costs keep going up and enrollment continues to decrease.
“But next year, the 2010-11 budget year, things aren’t looking as good,” said Ostermann. “Why? One of the big things is we do not get more federal stimulus dollars.”
The last school year was the “worst year for public education in California since the Great Depression,” Graeff told employees at the convocation, with the district losing more than $6 million. “...Experts are projecting a worse spring for public education in 2009-10 than last spring—yikes!”