January 28, 2008 (El Cajon) – “Tonight is a most difficult meeting,” GUHSD Superintendent Bob Collins told those present this evening at a special governing board budget workshop. Citing funding cuts from the state plaguing school districts throughout the state, he warned of a growing budget gap.
“The current district surplus will be fully consumed in solving this crisis—and it will not be enough.” He predicted, “It will be gone by the end of the year—and things are going to get worse.”
The District is preparing its budget for the next three fiscal years. By the third year, it will likely face a budget gap of approximately $20 million, according to a presentation made by Scott Patterson, deputy superintendent of business services.
Superintendent Collins assured that the District will fulfill its obligation to “provide all students with quality instruction” even amid difficult times and offered praise for Grossmont staffers who have risen to the challenges faced by trying circumstances.
“We will try to keep cuts as far from classrooms as possible,” he pledged. “My recommendation is that we not lay off any personnel. As tragic as salary cuts or furloughs may be, the prospect of someone losing their job is devastating.”
He proposed the following steps to deal with the budget crisis:
• A hard freeze on filling all certificated and classified vacancies, except for classroom teachers, starting February 1
• An across-the-board 25% cut in all central office expenditures and budgets
• A 5% decrease in compensation to the Superintendent
• Cuts to professional development costs, except for literacy programs
• An end to most consulting contracts
Patterson said the outlook has worsened since the District held an interim meeting in December. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new proposed budget, though not yet law, “Does set a tone of discourse and in our case, in a negative directions.” According to the Governor’s budget analysis which the district received January 13, education cuts would account for 25% of proposed state budget cuts.
By March 15, the District must submit a plan to the County and State for its budgets for the next three years—without knowing what the State’s final budget will be.
Cuts should include triggers for restoration, Patterson recommended.
The Governor’s proposed $19.9 billion budget may be overly optimistic, since it relies on $6.9 billion in federal funds requested but not allocated.
“So it’s smoke and mirrors,” trustee Jim Kelly commented.
The good news is the state budget proposes no mid-year cuts this fiscal year, but by fiscal year 2010-2011, the district will likely face a $20.1 million deficit once the surplus is used up and new cuts kick in.
The Governor’s budget includes a negative COLA (cost of living adjustment) of .38%. “That means we get less money,” Patterson explained. The Governor also targets school district central administration. “That could be 50-60% cuts in administration,” said Patterson, bringing shocked looks to trustees’ already-grim faces. The Governor is also pushing for more contracting out of services, elimination of laid-off teachers’ guaranteed rights, and shorter notification for lay-offs.
Another variable is enrollment. The district has boosted its enrollment in the past year through truancy programs aimed at regaining “fifth year” seniors. Immigration has also increase enrollment, bringing in more average daily attendance dollars. But whether that will continue is in question.
Patterson outlined “level one” cuts he believes will be needed to stem the budget shortfall. These include cutting tutorial programs in half, eliminating ninth grade teachers through attrition, cutting summer school to one three-week session, slashing the district office operating budget by 25%, reducing school site dollar allocations 25%, reducing substitute budgets, targeted program reductions, eliminating non-classroom vacancies, and reducing special education programs.
He said additional “level two” cuts will also be needed. Those include reducing the deferred maintenance fund and spending down that reserve (since some maintenance needs have been eliminating due to new buildings built under a bond issue), equalizing furlough days, reducing the school year by five days, eliminating department chair release periods to require extra work, and negotiating salary rollbacks and/or health and welfare benefit cuts, such as higher copays on medical or requiring employee contributions for dental coverage.
But he conceded, “That’s very difficult to get a union to accept, and very difficult to get a union to accept.”
Other recommended actions include a hard freeze on hiring teachers and a suspension on hiring classified substitutes.
“It’s unnerving to spend down our reserves,” said trustee Priscilla Schreiber. "This whole thing is unnerving."
David Golden, representative for the Classified Service Employees Association (CSEA), voiced concerns to East County Magazine over the proposals. “I think there are a lot of problems with it,” he said. “They’re not using the correct numbers for the ADA.”
In an interview with ECM following the meeting, Superintendent Collins said the district is also pursuing “as many grant proposals as possible,” which could ease the crunch somewhat, though most are narrowly targeted, such as for literacy programs. “The issues here are bigger than Grossmont. They’re bigger than the other school districts,” he observed. “There has to be, in critical institutions, a way to stabilize funding for families and kids…That’s true of police, fire and other critical services.”
Collins faults the state government for failing to find long-term stable funding sources for education in California.
“What else can I cut?” he asked, clearly frustrated at the daunting challenge. “We’re at very minimal operating levels. We will deal with it and we will keep our promise to provide students with quality instruction,” he concluded. “But it will be on the backs of classified and certificated employees who are really doing extraordinary jobs under extremely difficult situations.”