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.

   
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