Del Mar Union School District panel divided

The Del Mar Union School District’s Strategic Plan Financial Task Force is split on one major point: Is theirs a district in a budget crisis or simply one facing financial challenges?

Task force co-Chair Eileen Hoppen appeared before trustees on March 24, asking the board for direction on their group divide.

“There’s growing community and task force concern that perhaps there isn’t a deficit,” Hoppen said. “We can’t get bogged down in that debate.”

Trustee Annette Easton said the task force should press forward on both sides of the debate, offering the board recommendations on the following scenarios:

  • If there is no growth in property taxes and a deficit of $3.2 million;
  • If the budget, in fact, stays the same;
  • If there is no deficit at all.

By having to come up with contingency plans for all three scenarios, the task force is carrying a larger load than its initial mandate, but Hoppen said they are willing to do the work.
“They’re a hard-working group,” said Trustee Doug Perkins, the task force co-chair.

The group is made up of 18 members: one appointed by each trustee, PTA representatives from each school, Carmel Del Mar Principal David Jones, Del Mar Schools Education Foundation President Chris Stevenson, classified employee Eileen Randall, and Sandy Johnson from the teachers association.

Task force members are working towards an April 28 deadline when they are scheduled to present their recommendations to trustees. They are expected to include a prioritized list of budget cuts, a plan should the district loses its Basic Aid status, revenue enhancement opportunities, and guidelines for how much money should remain in the reserve and triggers for using those funds.

Del Mar is a “Basic Aid” district, which means the district receives its general funding from local property taxes, as opposed to a revenue limit district, which receives the bulk of its funding from the state. Basic Aid districts also receive state fund in the form of categorical money for specific programs.

Task force member Bob Shopes said, “Basic Aid is the most important thing to the district and if we lose it, we’re in big trouble.”

The task force will make recommendations on how much of the district’s reserves should be used to “cushion the blow” if Basic Aid is lost, and other emergency steps that would need to be taken, relative to issues like teachers’ contracts, if the funding disappears.

It is necessary to make sure the framework for emergency situations is in place to avoid “panic or lawsuits,” Shopes said.

At its March 26 task force meeting, the group discussed revenue-generating ideas, including using the American Express points program for purchases, offering advertising on the district Web site, naming rights on campus buildings, possible increases in after-school child-care fees and field use fee, and hosting a farmers’ market on a school site on the weekends.

Ideas that have been reviewed but deemed not feasible at this time include passing a parcel tax, inter-district transfers, buying a district office building with excess space and leasing the excess space, and having coffee and breakfast carts on campus for parents dropping off children.

The task force will next meet at 7 a.m. April 2 at Carmel Del Mar School. The task force plans to hold at least two more meetings before the group presents its final recommendations to the school district board at the April 28 board meeting.