Economic issues loom over YUSD

Declining enrollment coupled with increased debt and pension payments have left Yosemite Unified School District in a potentially turbulent economic position - with its reserves projected for a significant decrease over the next three years in order to cover expenses.

Assistant Superintendent Leonard Kahn said the major issue affecting the district’s budget is lost students, as YUSD enrollment has dropped 35% compared to 2006.

In 2006, Kahn said YUSD had 2,565 students. In 2015-2016, that number fell to 1,666.

By today’s funding estimates, Kahn said that decline in enrollment would equate around a $7.2 million loss in district revenue.

“That’s the biggest thing we’re struggling with,” Kahn said. “It’s leveled off in the last few years, and we’re starting to get some students back, but it’s definitely had a major impact.”

The district’s 2015-2016 fiscal year budget is $18.9 million as reported at the March 14 school board meeting.

Kahn said lower enrolmment may be due to the 2008 opening of Minarets High School in O’Neals, or students switching to area charter schools.

Whatever the cause, Kahn said the district is certainly “not in crisis” thanks to the improvement of the state economy as it comes out of recession.

“Gov. Jerry Brown over the last several years has underpromised and overdelivered on things like state tax revenue, particularly towards schools,” Kahn said. “Schools are one of the agencies most protected ... it’s been helpful in adjusting to these economic issues.”

In spite of that, other economic issues have arisen for YUSD, Kahn said.

With employee pension plans, Kahn said per-year district costs, around $180,000 this year, are projected to rise by more than 300% to $887,495 in 2020-2021.

Throw in debt for projects including the Ansel Adams classroom building at Yosemite High School, with the current $135,250 annual payment set to double in 2017-2018 and quadruple in the future to around $500,000, and Kahn said the district has several “expenditure liabilities that loom overhead.”

Consultants have also advised to prepare for another recession, Kahn said, which may be difficult as the district’s reserves, around $2.36 million this year, could decrease to $868,293 in 2017-2018.

“But they say economists have accurately predicted eight out of the last two recessions,” Kahn said. “We’re in good shape right now.”

School districts are also required to keep a 3% reserve. Three-year projections indicate the district’s 12.5% reserve this year would shrink as low as 4.58%.

Despite these issues, Kahn said the district was stable and prepared to adjust to the future economic shifts.

“The district hopes that annual staffing attrition, whether through retirement or current staff leaving the workforce, will help to offset the substantial revenue lost due to ten years of enrollment declines,” Kahn said.

The current YUSD budget, published in a user-friendly format, can be found the district’s home website: