By Joe Tash
The San Dieguito Union High School District expects to trim as much as $3.6 million from its budget next year, meaning the elimination of 15 teaching positions, likely layoffs of non-teaching employees, closing the district's summer school program and other cuts.
"It hurts," said school board president Barbara Groth in an interview after the board heard a presentation on next year's budget projections by Superintendent Ken Noah.
The anticipated cuts for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1, come on the heels of $6 million to $7 million in cuts over the previous two years, said Noah.
Noah said he made the presentation to alert the board to the need for additional steep cuts next year and to get the board's input about the district's plan to balance its budget. However, trustees did not comment after Noah's remarks.
According to Noah, the district faces a budget shortfall of about $7.5 million next year, due to declining revenue from the state and built-in increases in expenditures for employee salaries and retirement contributions. Noah is proposing to fill that gap with $3.6 million in cuts and about $4 million from district reserves.
The district's budget for the current fiscal year is $101 million.
The district serves students from coastal North County, including Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch. Its nine middle and high school campuses serve some 12,500 students, and the district employs about 600 teachers.
Budget cuts caused by declining revenue over the past several years have led to higher class sizes and fewer programs for students, said Noah.
"I would have said a year ago ... we've really cut this thing to the bone and I don't know how much more we can cut," said Noah in an interview before the board meeting. "We are cutting another $3.5 million and it's starting to affect quality."
While the district has maintained its test scores in spite of the cuts, students are getting less individualized attention from teachers, working under more crowded classroom conditions, and less money is available for supplies and equipment.
"We're not buying much in the way of textbooks or technology or supplies for classrooms," Noah said.
The district plans to trim $1.75 million in teacher salaries next year by eliminating 15 positions of teachers who retire, and also replacing other retiring teachers with less experienced teachers who earn lower salaries, Noah said.
While no teacher layoffs are planned, the district is likely to have to lay off non-teaching employees, said Noah, although the exact number or layoffs or specific positions hasn't been determined yet.
The district will be able to make the cuts without increasing class sizes further (they now average 35 to 36 students in both middle and high school) because enrollment is expected to decline slightly next year.
Groth said as the budget process moves forward, the board will be monitoring cuts to ensure the impacts are spread out equally among the district's campuses.
One change that will affect students this year, said Noah, is the planned elimination of summer school. Last year the program was trimmed and in the coming year, it will be cut entirely.
On a positive note, said Noah, he attended a budget meeting in Sacramento recently, where state officials said they believe the economy has reached bottom in California and is poised for improvement.
"So our hope would be that things do not continue to decline and, in fact, improve marginally," over the next two to three years, he said.
Through a combination of budget cuts and use of reserves, said Noah, the district seeks to make it through the economic downturn with the least possible impact on classrooms, while still preserving required levels of reserves.
"I'm optimistic we're close to the bottom on this ourselves and I hope we don't face any more of the catastrophic reductions we have been making," he said.