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Wednesday: Portola Valley School District projects return to black in budget

School board scheduled to approve interim budget report for county ed office

The Portola Valley School District has managed to get its budget back in line after the district had to report to the San Mateo County Office of Education in December that its projections showed a future budgetary shortfall.

The district reported then that by the 2019-20 fiscal year, its reserves would be below the state-mandated 4 percent of its general fund budget.

That projection meant that for several months the district's budget has been considered to be under "qualified certification," meaning the district "may not meet its financial obligations" for the coming fiscal years.

But new projections, part of the second required mid-year budget review that will come before the school board at its Wednesday, March 7, meeting, show the district back in compliance.

The report shows that even though district revenues are over $15,000 less than had been budgeted, the district has also managed to cut its spending by more than $288,000. That increased its projected reserves to 5.4 percent in 2019-20. The December report showed only a 3.25 percent reserve in 2019-20.

Superintendent Eric Hartwig said several "higher than expected expenses" led to the budget problems. Those expenses included repairing mold and flooding in classrooms, and a broken water pipe. The district also spent more than expected on special education and services such as attorneys for labor negotiations, he said.

The district's policy of giving teachers higher pay for professional development also was more successful than had been expected, he said, with teachers "enthusiastically" taking part in additional training. "We're actually quite proud" of the participation, Mr. Hartwig said. "We really do have a highly professionalized workforce."

A report for the March 7 board meeting shows property tax revenue projected at nearly $36,000 less for the 2017-18 budget year than was assumed in December. The district also anticipates losing $10,000 from a shorter-than-projected summer camp lease. Those losses were partially offset by increased state revenues and an additional $23,000 grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation.

The big difference came in spending, however. Personnel costs are nearly $41,000 lower than budgeted, and by putting off some purchases the materials and supplies budget is down by nearly $145,000. Major savings came from purchasing low-cost laptops instead of tablets, the report says.

The district's budget also saw some savings because an anticipated bond election will not take place this budget year, saving $39,000 in election costs.

The district now estimates it will have a reserve fund of $1.2 million at the end of the current fiscal year.

The budget projections do not include salary increases, and the district is still in negotiations with its employees.

Enrollment projection report

The school board will also receive a report on future enrollment projections that is not quite as dire as a previous report.

The report by Tom Williams of Enrollment Projection Consultants, which studies demographics for a number of school districts in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, estimates that the district will lose 18 students in the 2018-19 school year, will gain two students the next year, and then will lose 32 students over the following three years.

The report cautions, however, that in such a small school district the "law of averages" does not work well. It says that the projection for the coming school year could be off by as many as 15 students, with the actual decline somewhere between three and 33 students.

The district now has 608 students: 264 in transitional kindergarten to third grade at Ormondale, and 344 in fourth through eighth grade at Corte Madera.

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