Lucia Mar school district could face $2 million budget shortfall

The Lucia Mar school district may face a nearly $2 million shortfall in the next fiscal year, but for the first time since 2009, the gap isn’t proposed to be filled through layoffs, furloughs or other cuts to employee compensation.

“We believe we can make some cuts that are away from the classroom,” Raynee Daley, the South County district’s assistant superintendent of business, told the school board Tuesday.

The district’s budget projections are based on the assumption that California voters won’t vote in November to approve Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to raise $6.9 billion though temporary new taxes.

If the taxes don’t pass, public schools and community colleges would face a $4.8 billion cut, which for the K-12 schools is equivalent to shortening the school year by three weeks.

“We’re going to hold the line and get through this year, through reducing expenditures,” Daley said. “Hopefully next year, we won’t be in the same situation.”

The news doesn’t lessen the impact of cuts that have devastated the largest school district in the county over the past few years.

The district has increased class sizes, cut and reduced art, music and other programs, and laid off about 19 teachers since the 2009-10 year. Employees have not received a salary increase since July 1, 2007.

Meanwhile, enrollment in the district has declined slightly. The district has 10,500 students, compared to 10,716 in the 2009-10 school year. Student population affects the budget because Lucia Mar, like other districts, receives state funding based on its attendance.

Countywide, the 10 school districts in San Luis Obispo County have cut about $50 million since 2008. Other districts will also face tough budget decisions this year, including the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, which has proposed teachers take a 6 percent pay cut over the next two years.

The Paso Robles district gave itself a negative certification late last year, signaling that it was not going to be able to meet its financial obligations this year. The district was one of seven districts in the state that gave itself the most serious classification, according to the Department of Education.

Four other districts in San Luis Obispo County indicated they are in a qualified financial status, meaning they may not meet their financial obligations for the current or next two fiscal years. They are the Atascadero, Lucia Mar, San Miguel and Shandon districts.

Statewide, 127 districts fall into one of the two classifications, meaning that one student in three attends a district in financial jeopardy, according to state schools chief Tom Torlakson.

At Lucia Mar, district officials are taking some steps to reduce the shortfall expected in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.Daley said principals at the district’s 17 schools are being asked to cut spending for the rest of this year by 10 percent.

She said in the next fiscal year, each department may be asked to cut its budget by 8 percent, funding for adult education could be reduced, and three administrative positions may be reassigned.

School board members could discuss other ways to reduce spending, such as eliminating transportation for students and reducing the athletics budget, but at this time they have not decided to pursue those options.

The board will take final action on its budget in June. The budget picture is likely to change again once the governor’s revised budget is released in May.

The district has received accolades as well as criticism for its efforts to open Central Coast New Tech High on the Nipomo High School campus next fall with 150 students.

In September, some teachers and parents urged board members to delay New Tech’s opening and instead direct money to restore programs that have been slashed in past years.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Jim Hogeboom told the board that no general fund money is expected to be used toward the program this year or next year.

In addition, a separate teacher training and evaluation program under way at seven schools will add more than $1 million to the general fund because a federal grant is paying some of the higher salaries of teachers involved in the program, Hogeboom said.