The Menlo Park City School District has taken a close look at its budget after two parcel tax measures failed in May. The news is not good: The district predicts that by the 2020-21 school year expenses will outstrip revenues by $5.3 million.
Expenses are going up as the district's enrollment growth continues, Superintendent Maurice Ghysels told the district's governing board at its Tuesday, Sept. 20, meeting. Employee compensation, including state-mandated pension costs that the district can't change, increases each year and now accounts for 89 percent of the district's budget, he said.
Assumptions in the budget predictions include a 6.1 percent growth in property tax revenue each year for the next four years, based on an eight-year property tax history, and that an existing parcel tax that expires at the end of June 2017 will not be renewed.
The model used by the district also assumes current personnel and programs will be maintained, and two more teachers added each year to compensate for enrollment growth. Employee compensation (salary and benefits) would increase at historic levels.
The result: something's got to give.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Ghysels and Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's top business official, gave board members a look at the spending side of the equation and briefed them on what the effects of 10 percent across-the-board cuts would be.
The district has asked the public to get involved in deciding what to do about the budget problems, with six more board meetings planned to discuss the issue. The next meeting, designated to hear the public talk about what the district should have learned from the parcel tax election, is next Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 6 p.m., in Hillview Middle School's Performing Arts Center, 1100 Elder Ave. in Menlo Park.
Among the reductions the district could make, Mr. Sheikholeslami told the board, are increased class sizes (which would result in cutting teachers and therefore personnel costs), and cuts in programs and non-teacher staffing, as well as other miscellaneous non-staffing costs.
To achieve a 10 percent personnel cost savings via larger classes would require an average of four more students per classroom, Mr. Sheikholeslami said. Such an increase could save the district close to $1.94 million a year by cutting 18 full-time teaching positions, he said.
The district could save an additional $1 million by cutting 10 percent of all other non-administrative district staff (everyone from custodians and technical support to aides and playground supervisors) plus close to $375,000 by cutting 10 percent of administrators and management level employees.
Shaving a quarter of a percent off annual raises for staff (which this year were at 2.5 percent) could save $87,500 the first year, Mr. Sheikholeslami said.
Superintendent Ghysels said the district will work to bring the board information for its Oct. 18 meeting about the priorities for cuts, a timeline of when reductions would be made, and an update of the budget with cuts included.
Board members suggested a few areas to look at that weren't including in the presentation. Trustee Joan Lambert recommended that the district look at how many minutes and days of instruction are required by the state and consider reductions if allowed, such as in the length of kindergarten classes.
"If we're talking about drastic cuts, we should at least look at that," she said.
Board President Jeff Child asked for a look at how the district could provide incentives for veteran teachers to retire.
He also asked the district to look at data on small class sizes. "Small class has never been properly defined to me," he said.
Scott Saywell, a candidate for one of two open school board positions in the November election, urged the board to look at how the possible cuts would affect students, and find a way to give students a voice in evaluating options for balancing the budget.
Board member Maria Hilton asked that the district try to add information to its presentations about how making specific cuts would affect a student's experience.
"I think it's important for people to understand" what the proposed cuts really mean, she said. "There obviously are going to have to be some trade-offs.
Upcoming meetings to discuss the district's financial situation are:
● Sept. 27, 6 p.m., Hillview Performing Arts Center, 1100 Elder Ave., Menlo Park. A community input session to review the May 3 parcel tax election.
● Oct. 18, 6 p.m., Hillview Performing Arts Center, 1100 Elder Ave., Menlo Park. The regular board meeting will include a discussion and a report on recommendations to address the deficit.
● Oct. 24, 9 a.m., Hillview Performing Arts Center, 1100 Elder Ave., Menlo Park. A community input session to discuss how the district can increase revenue.
● Oct. 25, 6 p.m., Hillview Performing Arts Center, 1100 Elder Ave., Menlo Park. A community input session to discuss how the district can increase revenue.
● Nov. 9, 6 p.m., Hillview Performing Arts Center, 1100 Elder Ave., Menlo Park. At this regular board meeting, the board will continue to discuss recommendations for increasing revenue and decreasing expenses, review community input and give direction to staff.
● Nov. 30, 6 p.m., Hillview Performing Arts Center, 1100 Elder Ave., Menlo Park. Final plan for addressing the projected deficit to be approved by the board. (The date of this meeting is set so as to allow the board to decide whether to put a parcel tax measure on the March 2017 ballot before the Dec. 2 deadline for approval of ballot measures.)