Mountain Area school districts face another year of reduced state funding -- what could be slashed further mid-year if a November tax initiative to help education fails.
Yet while funding remains uncertain, school districts are still required to submit their set budgets to the state for 2012-13 before school starts.
After five years of state cuts to education, Yosemite Unified School District and Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District have almost depleted their reserve funds, and this is the third year that Chawanakee Unified School District has taken out short-term loans for assistance.
Yosemite Unified School District plans to pull an estimated $1.3 million from its reserves for 2012-13 -- leaving about a $200,000 -- in lieu of cutting teachers or programs, although this is likely the last year the district can afford to do so.
Even if the initiative to raise taxes in November passes -- what would ensure that school districts receive at least the same amount of money they did last year -- Yosemite is still estimating it will have to cut $709,000 for 2013-14 -- or an estimated $1.45 million if the tax initiative fails, said Srini Vasan, chief business officer for the district.
Statewide, if the tax initiative doesn't pass, the governor plans to cut another $5.4 billion mid-year, primarily from K-14 education, which will bear almost 90% of that massive cut -- $4.84 billion.
Additionally, if voters don't approve the tax hike, the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years could be reduced by 15 days on top of the five-day reduction already allowable.
Yosemite's reserve fund is down to 1.3% for 2012-13 compared to the 19.2% cushion it had in 2009-10, and the district has already cut everything down to the "bare bones," Vasan said.
Management has been cut by 50%, teachers have been cut by 34% and classified positions (maintenance, custodial and transportation) have been cut by 30%, he said. Class sizes have risen and the school year was also cut by three days in 2011-12.
"Our district has lost $5 million in the past five years due to state funding cuts and declining enrollment," Vasan said. "We have sacrificed staff, resources and the quality of our children's education."
California is now amongst the bottom five states in student performance and education spending. How much we spend on our children's education matters, Vasan said.
Yet while California ranks amongst the worst in spending for education, it ranks the highest nationwide for prison spending -- more than five times what it spends per student, Vasan added.
"It is time that the future of our children and their educational needs drive education funding instead of economic policy dictating the demise of our education quality," he said.
This is the third year Chawanakee Unified School District plans to take out a short-term school loan to provide supplemental funding, said new superintendent Bob Nelson.
"Taking out a loan is very common with smaller school districts which do not have a very large reserve," Nelson said. "It's called the 'trans process,' and it helps keep cash flow going."
The district's reserve for 2012-13 is at $324,000 -- about 4%, he said.
Layoff notices were issued previously to four elementary school teachers and one middle school teacher, and the district should know by the beginning of August if those notices can be rescinded, Nelson said.
"Our goal is always to keep any budget reductions as far away from the students as possible, but this year, we are increasing class sizes to an average of 29 students," Nelson said. "Additionally, we have calendared five furlough days, with a potential for additional days if the governor's intended tax does not successfully pass, which seems likely."
Nelson said his goal in his first hundred days as new superintendent is to ensure the ongoing financial stability of the district, so that the primary attention can go to student's needs.
"Imagine working for an employer who comes to you in the spring and says, 'I want you to continue working, but I have no intention of cutting a check for you until October,'" Nelson said. "That is our current reality ... What deferred payments force us to do, as a district, is essentially to go into debt in order to make our routine payments. We then have to pay interest on that loan against our state allocation, which further adds to our budget woes. Last year, we made over $40,000 in interest payments, and this year looks to be much the same. That is money that can't be spent on behalf of children, which is frustrating."
Bass Lake Joint Union
Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District will bring back the eight teachers they noticed for 2012-13, including two teachers at Wasuma Elementary, a preschool teacher and four other teachers at Oakhurst Elementary, and the district's music teacher, said Superintendent Glenn Reid.
The district will also hire additional teachers due to several unexpected resignations and requests for unpaid leave, Reid said.
Bass Lake Joint Union will also partner with Yosemite Unified to continue to provide music instruction, with district music teacher Shirley Lay offered a one-period a day position to teach music with Randy Hyatt at Yosemite High School. Students will have music instruction four times a week for 50 minutes a day, with triple the number of instructors they have now, and the district will save about $20,000, Reid said.
Sports will continue but the format will also change. Rather than competing in the Mountain Area league, students will compete on an intramural basis, likely just between schools within the district, Reid said.
"Despite the claims of $6 billion more for schools and a 16% increase in school funding, our district, our schools, and our classrooms will not get one more dime (than it did last year) whether the governor's tax initiative passes or fails in November," Reid said. "Over the past several years, the cuts to education have been severe. The Bass Lake District should be receiving $6,635 per student to educate our children. We are only being funded $5,137 per student -- and that is if the tax initiative passes. If it does not, we will be looking at $4,716 per student. This is equivalent to what we were funded at in the school year 2001-2002."
To cope with reductions, the district has made cuts to programs, personnel, transportation and supplies, along with closing schools and furloughing employees. Still, like Yosemite Unified, the district's reserves are dwindling.
"We over spent our revenues by $680,000 this year and plan to do the same in the amount of $550,000 next year," Reid said. "That is all coming from a combination of cuts to the budget and reserves. This will leave us with about $700,000 in our ending balance to begin the 2013-14 year. As you can see, at that rate, we will be out of business by the 2014-15 year ... and we have been a very stable district with a good reserve."