High school district grapples with budget gap


By Joe Tash


The San Dieguito Union High School District had already come up with a plan to cover an $8 million gap in its 2010-11 budget when the news got even worse — the district was notified last week that its property tax revenue may drop by an additional $1.6 million next year.

Trustees were presented with next year’s proposed budget at their meeting on June 3. District officials had planned to cover the gap with $3.6 million in spending cuts and about $4.5 million from reserves. After the agenda was prepared, the district learned from the county tax assessor’s office and the San Diego County Office of Education of the projected 1.9 percent decline in property tax revenue.

“We will need to identify additional cuts for the budget year 2010-2011,” said Steve Ma, the district’s associate superintendent for business services, after the meeting.

The board is scheduled to adopt the budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, at its June 17 meeting.

The cuts slated for next year come on top of some $8 million in cuts over the past two years.

Already planned for next year are the elimination of 20.25 teaching positions and 18.51 support positions, such as secretaries, groundskeepers, warehouse and maintenance workers, said Ma.

No teachers will be laid off; instead, the district will trim its teaching ranks by not filling the positions of teachers who retire and not renewing the contracts of some temporary teachers.

However, support employees did receive layoff notices last month.

Several dozen support employees who are members of the California School Employees Association turned out for last week’s board meeting, carrying signs reading, “Equality.”

According to Ron Tackett, president of the union local representing about 400 district workers, members of the union have been working without a contract since last year.

Tackett told the board that its members want benefits provided to other employee groups in the district, such as expanded retiree health coverage, dental benefits and life insurance.

The board did not respond to the union members’ comments. Outside the meeting, Tackett said the increased benefits sought by employees would cost about $185,000 per year, and that negotiators for the union and the district have narrowed that gap to about $90,000.

Tackett said union members believe the district could afford the requested benefits in spite of its economic challenges.

‘I don’t think we’re talking about a lot of money,” he said.

The bulk of the proposed $3.6 million in cuts to next year’s budget come from salary and benefits, said Ma, but the district is also cutting expenditures on books and supplies.

Class sizes may increase slightly due to the teaching positions being eliminated, but the district is facing flat or declining enrollments among its nine middle and high school campuses, which will lessen the impact. Currently, he said, the district’s average class size for high school is 32 students.

The district is also eliminating most of its summer school program this year, which could impact students who want to go to college, or need remedial classes, Ma said.

The district’s proposed budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year includes expenditures of $98.9 million, down from $102.4 million this year. Because revenues are projected at $94.3 million — not counting the latest forecast of further declines in property tax revenue — the district is planning to cover the difference by pulling about $4.5 million from its reserves. That will bring the district’s reserve funds from $17.5 million this year, to just over $13 million next year.

If the economy doesn’t improve, said Ma, the district will likely have to make additional cuts over the next two years.