Del Mar school district approves a variety of cuts

By Karen Billing

The Del Mar Union School District board approved $1,596,138 in cuts at its March 20 meeting. The board members admitted the slices were painful to make, and they were in a position they did not want to be in, picking savings options from “a litany of bad choices.”

The approved cuts include five furlough days for classified and management staff; the reduction of three special education aide positions; allocating library media specialists and health aide technicians based on enrollment; elimination of a computer technician supervisor; elimination of eight English language learner positions; the elimination of four utility workers and one maintenance worker; the sale of maintenance trucks; and district department spending freezes.

An additional $1 million in cuts is coming as the district goes back to the table in negotiations with the Del Mar California Teachers Association (DMTCA) on March 27.

The main options to reach the $1 million in savings pledged by the DMCTA are increasing class sizes to 22:1 and five furlough days. Other proposed options could be restructuring ESC minutes and suspending oversized class payment.

All furlough days are contingent on negotiations with the DMCTA. The furlough days have to be equal—the classified staff will not take furloughs unless the DMCTA agrees for certificated and management staff to take furloughs as well.

Based on a budget workshop last week, Superintendent Holly McClurg said there was no consensus about the top priority among proposed cuts and there were pros and cons for all.

Many teachers in attendance on March 20 spoke up about the financial hardships they will face if they are forced to take furlough days.

Teachers also spoke against increasing class sizes, noting the district’s lower class sizes are valued and increasing them would result in the loss of around 11 to 15 temporary teachers and one permanent unit member to be transferred.

Teachers said that there is enough money in reserves to keep the district solvent without shoving more kids into a classroom or losing quality teachers.

They urged the district to suspend professional development and to use more of its reserves — “We saved for this, we have the money and we are asking you to please spend some of it,” said Sage Canyon teacher Chris Rappa.

The board has established a minimum reserve of 15 percent to address economic uncertainties. The state requires a reserve of 3 percent.

If the district does nothing to reduce expenditures and just uses its reserves to fill the gap, the reserve balance would be at 10 percent next year, according to Cathy Birks, assistant superintendent of business services. By the third year out, the reserves would barely make 3 percent.

While teachers urged them to spend reserves, the district is planning on spending $2 million to $2.5 million of its reserves this year, leaving a little over the 15 percent.

Del Mar Union School Board President Doug Rafner noted that on the financial task force he and trustee Doug Perkins served on three years ago, they never even discussed the 15 percent number. That task force determined 22 percent to be the floor and when they got to that 22 percent level the group recommended the district start making significant cuts.

“I’m just afraid the rainy day is almost on us,” Rafner said. “And I don’t want to be the president on the board that let us go bankrupt.”

In response to teachers asking to cut professional development, trustee Alan Kholos questioned what would happen if they delayed implementation of the Common Core Standards.

In rolling out the new Common Core, the district has spent about $284,000 investing in the program. Some districts are doing nothing, others are spending more but in less focused way, said Shelley Peterson, assistant superintendent of instructional services.

Peterson said if they stopped the work being done now they would be at a “tremendous disadvantage” as it requires a significant amount of professional learning.

“The district spends .5 percent of the budget on professional development,” Peterson said. “When you talk about making cuts as far away from the classroom, providing exceptional instructional program is not far away from the classroom.”

In starting the budget discussion, McClurg said that the Del Mar school district is in a place it has never been before and things aren’t going to get easier.

“News that I’ve gotten over the last month paints an even grimmer picture for this district,” McClurg said. “It doesn’t look very good.”

McClurg said the district is looking to take huge budget hits every year with Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed Local Control Funding Formula, a result of the passage of Prop 30. She is projecting a reduction in overall funding for DMUSD as a result of categorical funding changes that are expected to continue for the long term.

On a state-wide basis, funding levels are projected to grow $2,700 per student over the first five years of implementation, but DMUSD will see a loss of about $850 per student.

“Most districts are thrilled about local control funding because they will see an increase. We will see a decrease,” McClurg said.

Per the formula, districts receive substantial additional funding based on the number of English learners, students eligible for free and reduced lunch, and the foster youth they serve.

As examples, Carlsbad Unified will receive $2,447 more per student; Escondido Unified will see $4,860 more; San Dieguito Union High School District will see an increase in $1,982 per student; and Encinitas Union will see $914 more per student.

Approximately 230 districts, including DMUSD, are estimated to receive little-to-no funding as a result of the formula, with the only assurance that they won’t receive less than they did in 2012-13.

“This is a drastic change in education funding in California,” McClurg said.

Basic aid districts will continue to retain local property tax revenues — which will only increase if property taxes increase.

The property tax numbers will come in on May 10 and it could go up by 1 percent, about $300,000, or stay flat. McClurg said realistically with the deficit they are facing, hundreds of thousands of dollars is not going to save them.

“This is different for our district,” McClurg said of its current strain. “How do we keep what we have, because we have phenomenal things in this district? We have a huge budget issue and we can’t pay for things when you don’t have the money.”