Almanac

Schools - February 17, 2010

Ax falls on Las Lomitas district budget, but more cuts needed

• Another $300,000 in new state cutbacks likely to bring more pain to district.

by Renee Batti

Just as Las Lomitas School District board members were preparing to begin the painful process of cutting the district budget by about $1.2 million at the board's Feb. 10 meeting, they were hit with a new blow: They were told that they needed to add another $300,000 in cuts to the earlier target figure.

District staff had given the board a list of recommended cuts to be made over the next two budget years, totaling $1.1 million — just shy of the $1.2 million in cuts Superintendent Eric Hartwig said would be needed for the district to get out of deficit spending by 2011-12. The board unanimously approved nearly all of the proposed reductions, although it blunted the severity of the summer school program's cut.

The reductions, 75 percent of which will be put in place in the 2010-11 fiscal year, include: a hiring freeze except when required by law, including a reversal of a plan to hire more teachers to address the spurt in enrollment; larger class sizes; cuts in or elimination of some enrichment programs; and shortening the school year by three instructional days and furloughing employees up to five non-instructional days (effective 2011-12, if successfully negotiated with employee unions).

But after the vote, the board began to discuss options for further spending cuts in response to Mr. Hartwig's earlier announcement that he had learned, only that morning, that the state was likely to withhold another $300,000 in its already-reduced funding for the district.

Mr. Hartwig said he was told by School Services of California, which analyzes state and federal funding for schools, that California schools were likely to lose an additional $240 per pupil from the state because the $7 billion the governor had expected in federal relief funds fell far short of the mark. With the district's hit estimated at $300,000, the board would be prudent to work further reductions totaling that amount into the two-year cutback plan, he said.

The board reviewed a series of more severe options for reductions that included layoffs, reduction in counseling, reducing custodial service from daily to every other day, and reducing the school day at La Entrada from eight sessions to seven.

Although no additional cuts were approved that night, board President Jamie Schein said later that the board is seeking more information and guidance from the staff, and will "continue to look for cost savings."

Summer school

Before voting on the staff's recommended spending cuts, board members agonized over the proposed slashing of the summer school program.

The proposal limited summer school enrollment, beginning this year, to special education students and others the district is required by law to school year-round. Under that scenario, the district could save about $32,000, Mr. Hartwig said.

But board members questioned whether the district really would save in the long run under such a plan. If children who need the extra help that summer school traditionally provides can't enroll in the scaled-back program, "my concern is that it will cost the district more than $32,000" in the end because of the remedial programs that would be needed for those students once school begins in the fall, board member John Macdonald said.

The sentiment was echoed by other board members, and in the end they asked the staff to come back with a summer school plan that will include fewer students than the typical number — about 90 last year — but will allow those most in need of extra help to attend. The plan, they said, should look for other efficiencies in addition to a cutback in enrollment.

Although the two-school Las Lomitas district is one of the wealthiest school districts in the Bay Area, it hasn't escaped the pain of the financial downturn. Mr. Hartwig reported that "almost zero local revenue growth" is predicted for the 2010-11 fiscal year, and the district is projected to "deficit spend" this year by about $481,000.

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