San Dieguito projects $3.7 million deficit in 2018-19 school year budget

Members of the SDUHSD board at a workshop held in February.
(Karen Billing)

The San Dieguito Union School District board approved its 2018-19 budget at its June 21 meeting, looking at a $3.7 million deficit.

The budget’s projected $141,687,264 in revenue reflects an increase in revenue from 2017-18 due to an estimated 5 percent increase in property taxes and an increase in state aid funding under the Local Control Funding Formula.

In the proposed $145,400,746 of expenditures, 84 percent goes to personnel costs. Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Tina Douglas said that the expenditures also include nearly $2 million in contributions to the state retirement systems as the rates continue to escalate.

CalSTRS (California State Teachers’ Retirement System) employer rates are increasing to 16.28 percent in 2018-19 for an estimated cost increase of $1.4 million to the district. The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) rate will increase to 18.062 percent for a cost estimated increase of $550,000.

Projecting out for the next three years the district will continue to deficit spend, which will impact its reserves. In 2019-20, they are projecting to deficit spend $5.3 million, leaving $3.8 million ending balance in reserves. In 2020-21 the deficit is projected at $1.9 million, leaving $1.9 million in the ending balance.

Cost-containment and efficiency will continue to be a priority in order to maintain adequate reserves, Douglas said.

“It’s going to be harder and harder for us to increase services with the limited amount of funding from the state,” Douglas said.

She said the district will look to improve services by re-aligning resources, identifying efficiencies and continue to comb the budget for areas where they may be able to save.

While the numbers will not be final until the fall, the district is looking at a deficit for the 2017-18 school year of $8.4 million.

During public comment, parent Rita Macdonald asked when the board is going to do something about the deficit spending.

“We can’t keep going down this highway because by 2020 we’re going to be bankrupt, that’s not a good look for a high-performing district.” Macdonald said.

SDUHSD Trustee Amy Herman remarked that a lot of people in the district have concerns about the bottom line, “We’ll continue to have discussions about ways we can look at cutting back in some areas,” she said.

SDUHSD President Beth Hergesheimer said they have decided to put the brakes on some expenditures while others they have chosen to do even though they came with a price tag—such as adding social workers and taking over pool fees for aquatic sports programs.

“We’ve done things people have asked for and we felt were worthy and the right thing to do,” Hergesheimer said.

Douglas asserted: “I will not let this district go bankrupt.”

Douglas said she included positions in the 2018-19 budget that she heard as board priorities in a budget workshop on May 10. Those positions included a school psychologist, speech therapist, a functional life skills teacher, an occupational therapist and a theater technician at La Costa Canyon High School (as all other three high schools already have one on staff).

The board did have conversations around additional campus security and student resource officers but those were not added to the budget. However, Douglas noted that the district did increase to two campus supervisors at all of the high schools this school year so it doesn’t show as an increase for 2018-19.

At the meeting, SDUHSD Vice President Mo Muir made a motion to include all safety items for all schools immediately into the budget but it did not receive a second.

“We have had so many instances that could have turned out unpleasant for our students. This district has been lucky. I won’t ever place our students’ safety on luck,” said Muir, referencing that it has been months since the board passed a resolution in support of student safety and she believes nothing has been done.

The resolution passed in March took a stand against gun violence in schools and aimed to improve the physical safety of campuses, requiring visitor identification and updating emergency plans. Muir was the sole vote against the resolution, she said partially because there was no budget attached.

“If it’s not in our budget, it’s not a priority,” Muir said. “To me, this is a priority. Safety should be first always.”

Hergesheimer said she did not agree: “I believe we are addressing safety items.”

Hergesheimer said that the resolution that the board passed was not specific to projects, it represented concepts.

“Staff has been moving those projects along and we have been paying for the projects as they have been done,” Hergesheimer said, noting there is not a specific safety budget.

Douglas said the district completed a safety audit that recommended perimeter fencing and limiting access to campuses. Included in the budget is a surveillance camera system at Torrey Pines High School; perimeter fencing at Torrey Pines High School and San Dieguito High School Academy; painting the roofs on campuses so buildings can be identified from the air in an emergency situation; and the purchase of Raptor electronic visitor management system for all campuses.

At the June 21 meeting, the board approved a $73,399 contract with Vector Resources for a 25-camera security system for Torrey Pines High School. The funding comes from Mello Roos, funds raised by special taxes to district residents.

Muir said she has never heard a report from any certified safety consultant regarding safety items. She believed that safety for all campuses, such as cameras for all school sites, should be budgeted but Douglas said: “We won’t even know what that looks like until after we get through the pilot at Torrey and then we will go through and see what the need is at each of the other school sites.”

Herman said safety is a priority but is also complex— in some cases, such as perimeter fencing, the school has to get approval from the Division of State Architects (DSA).

At both Torrey Pines and San Dieguito, the long-term plan is to use decorative metal fencing, standard 8’ black vinyl chain link and new structures to funnel the public to a reduced number of access points that can be monitored and secured when necessary.

The fencing project is expected to be completed over the next three years in phases, Douglas said, starting with installing fencing that doesn’t require DSA approval. Phase two includes areas that will require DSA approval, aiming to start construction toward the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Phase three involves more conversations about student access—reviewing how to limit public access while still being a welcoming school campus and without making a negative architectural impact on the community. This work, the most costly phase of about $10 million, could begin in the 2019-20 school year.

Muir voiced frustration that the district could not earmark funds now for work at all schools.

“If something happens…I hope nothing does. But that’s all we’re talking about, a hope,” she said. “It’s unfortunate.”