By BOB GRAEFF, Superintendent, Ramona Unified School District
Over the past several months, the Ramona Unified School District has increasingly emphasized the need to cut operating costs in order to maintain the level of fiscal solvency necessary to accomplish our mission to “prepare today’s learners for tomorrow’s world.”
In doing so, we have already cut dozens of teaching and support positions as well as music programs for elementary school children, summer school, our GATE program, and funds for classroom supplies. Our classified and management employees agreed to compensation cuts of three unpaid furlough days last year and up to 10 percent annually for the next three years. However, as drastic as those cuts have been, they have not been enough. We need reductions in our compensation costs from all our employees.
Contrary to public expectations, the passage of Proposition 30 in the November 2012 election does not relieve the District’s ongoing deficit that has been created by the following events and conditions:
•About 90 percent of the District’s 2012-13 budget is being spent on personnel salary and benefits expenses, leaving little funding for the non-personnel resources that are important to the education of our children.
•Health benefit costs for our eligible teachers continue to be fully funded by the District — and those costs are increasing about 10% per year.
•Continuing declines in student enrollment, combined with reduced funding formulas by the State, have resulted in a loss of funding by more than 22 percent in our unrestricted accounts since 2007-08 and about 20 percent in our restricted categorical funding.
•Specifically, enrollment has declined by more than 1,400 students over the past 12 years and is projected to drop by another 150 students next year — by itself reducing State funding by $800,000 next year alone.
Meanwhile, the State continues to defer full payment of the funding school districts are to receive, which requires us to borrow monies to operate our schools from other sources until we receive payment in full. The interest costs associated with such loans place additional pressure on the District’s General Fund.
•Without additional reductions in personnel costs, the District will not be able to meet its financial obligations for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 fiscal years.
After more than a year of collective bargaining negotiations with the union representing our teachers, followed by two months of mediation, we have not been able to reach an agreement that is both fair and financially responsible.
The District and union then presented their cases to a Fact Finding panel February 27-28. The panel now has 20 days to present its findings to both parties, after which they will be made public at a local board meeting.
While the panel’s conclusions are not binding on either party, it is the District’s continuing hope that an agreement can still be reached with the union negotiating team that is both fair and financially responsible. The District remains accessible and available to work with the union to identify and then implement the savings needed to keep our schools solvent.