The Cambrian

Budget outlook not as bleak for local schools

Despite the state’s dire budget forecasts, falling North Coast property-tax levels and a possible reduction of about $954,000 in Coast Unified School District’s state funding for the 2010-2011 school year, district staff doesn’t anticipate cutting staff or programs or increasing class sizes appreciably.

Instead, Superintendent Chris Adams told about four dozen people at a fast-paced budget workshop on Monday, May 10, the district is relying on belt tightening and upcoming retirements of senior staffers to help income cover expenses.

At least four teachers have told Adams they’ll probably retire by the end of the next school year. He said up to 16 others could leave within the next five years.

The district likely wouldn’t replace them all, Adams said, but hiring a new teacher is considerably less

expensive than paying a tenured instructor.

Other employees also could assume the retiree’s responsibilities. For instance, Adams is now superintendent and special education director, saving the district about $40,000 a year.

The district still must tighten its fiscal belt, by shortening summer school to a two-week “kick start” for students who need extra help, deferring maintenance, delaying textbook purchases and continuing to apply for grants even though odds of being approved for one are slim.

“We’ve gone through bad budget cycles before,” Adams said, “but this is by far the worst.”

The school board is required to approve its 2010- 2011 budget in June, even though nobody expects the governor and state legislators to have hammered out their differences on the state budget by then.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to release his budgetary “May revise” soon, but district staffers say there undoubtedly will be other changes ahead that will affect the budgets of all school districts.

Adams said state budgeters haven’t yet indicated which parts of Coast Unified’s budget will be affected by the expected $954,000 in cuts.

Adams used 2009-2010 figures to explain the district’s current position to workshop attendees.

The district received more than $11.4 million in income. Nearly 95 percent is general fund money, of which 74 percent comes from property tax.

That’s how Coast qualifies to be one of only a few “basic aid” funded school districts. A school is considered basic aid when its local property tax base is greater than would be provided under the state’s formula for backfilling when property-tax levels aren’t high enough to support the school system.

State and federal sources pay the district other monies to pay for specific programs. The district also must offer a host of mandated programs that aren’t fully funded by the state.

More than 76 percent of district expenditures, or about $8.5 million, are for salaries and benefits.

The district has gleaned about $16,000 so far this school year by renting recently renovated rooms and areas in the Old Cambria Grammar School.