Ravenswood eyes staffing cuts to address budget shortfall

Board for East Palo Alto, east Menlo school district to discuss proposals Thursday

Some Ravenswood City School District administrators and classified staff could see their jobs cut under a proposed plan the school board will consider Thursday to shrink an ongoing budget deficit.

The Ravenswood school district must cut $3.3 million from next year's budget in order to remain fiscally solvent. Several years of deficit spending, the result of declining enrollment and a corresponding drop in state funding, has now led to close oversight of the district by the San Mateo County Office of Education.

The district's chief budget official, Steven Eichman, said at a press conference Monday that he is recommending the board reduce staffing proportional to current enrollment numbers. Ravenswood, a K-8 district that serves East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park residents, currently enrolls about 2,700 students, a population that has steadily shrunk over the last several years.

Eichman is proposing the board eliminate the equivalent of 83 full-time positions. Starting at the top, cutting eight certificated management positions -- including the equivalent of two-and-a-half full-time principal positions, two vice principals, the assistant superintendent of student services and others -- would save the district $920,743.

The district already planned to eliminate the principal and vice principal positions as it consolidated all middle school students at a new standalone middle school campus.

The bulk of the proposed cuts — $2.7 million worth — would come from 54 classified staff positions, from secretaries and custodians to school support staff and health and wellness providers. More than half of the jobs are held by people at the district's Child Development Center, the district's state-funded preschool program, which administrators have said has low enrollment but high staffing costs.

Eichman is proposing cutting 28 of the 31 positions at the Child Development Center, which he described as encroaching on the district's general fund.

He is recommending the district keep the Child Development Center open but instead ask the state Department of Education or county Office of Education to take over operations.

No teachers will lose their jobs next year, Eichman said. The district has budgeted for savings from 15 teachers who have already been released from temporary positions or resigned this year. The district is also expecting to secure savings from annual attrition, he said.

Ravenswood loses an average of 41 teachers each year.

Eichman is also recommending the board adjust the amount of special-education services, including psychological support, that the district contracts with outside agencies proportionally to the number of students served.

"We will not deny any students the services they need ... but we feel we can do it in a more efficient manner," he said.

Other proposed savings come from cutting classified management and classified confidential positions.

A summary of the proposed budget cuts is posted here.

The district is also assuming in its budgeting that it will not receive $1.1 million from a parcel tax that expires in June, which funds 13 teaching positions. The district plans to put a renewal measure on the June ballot, Eichman said, but the county has requested the money not be factored into the budget since voters have not passed the new parcel tax.

Eichman noted that some of his proposals are subject to union negotiations, which are ongoing. If the unions don't agree to the cuts, the board will have to identify other reductions to remain fiscally solvent, Eichman said.

Late last month, Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff implemented a freeze on all hiring, overtime, conferences, travel and "non-mission critical purchases," Eichman said. He has not yet estimated those savings.

The district has also frozen $150,000 in the budget that had not yet been spent and an additional $500,000 in unrestricted expenditures that will be redesignated as restricted.

Ravenswood is projecting a deficit of $1.7 million in the 2019-20 school year. If the district does not make any cuts, it will face a negative ending balance of $10 million in its general fund, the San Mateo County Office of Education has estimated.

The school district is required to meet certain deadlines set by the county Office of Education, including to present layoff resolutions to the school board later this month in advance of a legal deadline to notify staff on March 15.

On Monday, Eichman insisted that Ravenswood is not facing a financial "crisis."

"It's only a crisis if we decide we're going to do nothing, and that isn't the case nor will it be," he said.

Ravenswood relies heavily on state revenue through the Local Control Funding Formula. The model distributes state dollars based on average daily attendance: the average number of days a student attends school per year divided by total days of instruction. As enrollment drops, so does state revenue.

Ravenswood received about $31.5 million through the Local Control Funding Formula last year; the amount is down to $30.4 million this year and targeted to drop to $27.6 million next year.

District staff have attributed the decline in students to the opening of charter and private schools in East Palo Alto, including KIPP Bay Area Schools this fall and Priscilla Chan's The Primary School in 2016; the longtime Voluntary Transfer Program, which allows some Ravenswood students to attend neighboring districts; and the area's high cost of living.

Enrollment dropped this fall by nearly 400 students, compared to about 150 to 200 students in past years. The district expects to lose another 300 students over the next two years, according to projections.

The board is set to discuss the budget proposals this Thursday, Feb. 8. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at 2120 Euclid Ave., East Palo Alto. View the agenda here.

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