CUSD superintendent’s letter to the community on school budget cuts

Letter

Posted by on Wed, September 2, 2009

The following letter has been distributed to the community by Rob Gaskill, superintendent of the Cabrillo Unified School District. There will be a second "Town Hall Meeting on Adequate School Funding" sponsored by the Cabrillo Education Foundation from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23 in the Cunha Intermediate Library.

As a direct result of what Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi recently deemed "the worst recession since the Great Depression," funding for schools in the State of California (previously ranked an abysmal 46th nationally) is headed even lower.  The agreement reached between Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders last month virtually guarantees it.  In the span of less than twenty-four months, the State Budget has shriveled from over $100 billion to $85 billion.  As a result of a combination of cuts, deferrals, and IOU’s (deficits) applied to the revenue limit guarantee, the already underfunded per student "guarantee" of $6,366.74 that schools should be receiving this year will instead amount to $5,198.12… a reduction of over 18%!  Given these facts, it should surprise no one that the Cabrillo Unified School District Budget that was just under $30 million in 2008-09 will level off at approximately $25 million next year.  As you might well imagine, school districts across the state are scrambling to "make do" with much less… and valuable programs (and staff members) are falling by the wayside. 

This is certainly not the first time the District has faced a budget crisis and it might not be the last.  But this one is the most challenging to date. This "for the foreseeable future" reduction in state funding has created a structural deficit for most districts… and structural deficits are serious matters. If you are taking in less money than you are spending, you have a problem and that problem can grow exponentially over time.  The other challenge posed by a structural deficit is that the response nearly always requires reductions in on-going expenditures and that almost always translates into program and people; reductions that can remain "off the table" indefinitely until funding levels increase or new funding sources are identified. 

We have taken a number of proactive steps to address this growing crisis along the way.  Our classrooms are currently at, or near, the maximum class sizes stipulated by contract at all levels.  We have been operating under a "hold" on state categorical program carryover amounts and a freeze on non-essential purchases and travel for over a year. 

Last year’s (08-09) budget was reduced by $497,483 via staffing to ratio, serving students with specialized needs within the district, freezing non-essential travel and purchases, and reducing Fund 17 reserves by $1.0 million.

This year (09-10), the District Budget was further reduced by $440,476 via:

  • $137,188 in reduced administrative staffing at the District Office
  • $  60,000 in reduced athletic funding
  • $  70,000 in reduced classified staffing at the District Office
  • $  53,037 in reduced classified staffing at elementary school sites
  • $  42,394 in reduced classified staffing at secondary school sites
  • $  28,843 in reduced counseling (.5) at Half Moon Bay High School
  • $  25,000 reduction in consult support
  • $  20,000 in projected energy savings
  • $  4,284 in miscellaneous program cuts

 

The current budget is also balanced by a final reduction in available Fund 17 reserves of $1.6 million. Most of the fine-tuning and "easy answers" are cards that have been played by now.  While we caught the smallest of breaks when we "fell into" so-called basic aid status (our local tax revenues are now slightly higher than the state revenue limit guarantee as a result of the state’s decision to deficit the guarantee to schools by 18.355%), we are left with an unenviable task of resolving a formidable $2.5 million ongoing deficit.  We have some serious work to do this year.

School districts like Cabrillo Unified have a comparatively short list of options for addressing structural deficits.  Potential strategies include 1) making additional permanent, devastating cuts to existing school programs, 2) increasing District revenues via a parcel tax or special district measure, 3) reaching agreement with employee groups on salary or benefit concessions, or 4) some combination of the above. 

This is not a problem that we created… but it is a problem we all share.  Assuming that you believe as I do that the quality of life on the Coastside is directly related to the quality of our schools, I encourage you to join us in meeting this daunting challenge in the months ahead.  Consider visiting the Cabrillo Unified School District web site at http://www.cabrillo.k12.ca.us/ and click on the "Budget Bulletin" link for updates and announcements.  Staff is completing work on a 40-item "Question & Answer" document that will be posted on this site that should provide you with significantly more insight into this fiscal crisis.  You might also want to attend the second "Town Hall Meeting on Adequate School Funding" sponsored by the Cabrillo Education Foundation from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23 in the Cunha Intermediate Library.  Finally, as the Board engages in final discussions relating to program reductions for the 2010-2011 school year this coming December-February, you may wish to attend any or all of the regularly-scheduled or special Board meetings.  Dates, times, and locations will be announced on the District web site noted above.

If you would like to voice your opinion on potential program reductions at any time, I encourage you to be both creative in your thinking and as realistic as you can be. Email your thoughts and suggestions directly to Director of Fiscal Services Diane Stupi at [email protected] or Superintendent Rob Gaskill at [email protected] 

We will keep you posted.

Rob Gaskill, District Superintendent  


Comment 1
Thu, September 3, 2009 12:43pm
Ken Johnson
All my comments

A quick quiz. Raise your hand if you can define the following terms from the letter: “Fund 17”, “basic aid” and “revenue limit”. Ok, Jonathan put your hand down as that makes two people - two more than on the school board.

(As the district is now a “basic aid” district according to Superintendent Gaskill’s letter, I just smile as I remember former Superintendent Baseless and a School Board member arguing with me during a Board meeting that they knew the district could NEVER be a “basic aid” district, yeah, she was the same Board member who argued that it would be “illegal” to build the ‘new’ school at the current Cunha location. I just love one dimensional people! Anyway, with an interesting quirk in the law, it is the time to form a Charter School for the ELL students.)

Ok, now for word choice appropriateness, in the following quote from Rob’s letter above:
“In the span of less than twenty-four months, the State Budget has shriveled from over $100 billion to $85 billion.”

Raise your hand, if you believe that “shriveled” is the appropriate word choice. Ok, Rob put your hand down.

(At this point in the business cycle, I would consider only a 15% drop in revenue as success.)

Final question: do you believe a ‘step and grade’ or COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) increase in pay is appropriate when there is no inflation?

Ken Johnson