District faces projected $1.6 million deficit next year

December 15, 2009 — by Rebecca Nguyen and Anna Shen

Saratoga and Los Gatos High Schools will be facing at least a $1.6 million deficit during the 2010-2011 academic school year and are looking for ways to solve the problem during the next few months. Potential changes include larger class sizes, staff layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs, fewer instructional supplies, an on-line summer school option and a schedule alignment between the two schools.

“[Los Gatos Saratoga Union High School District] is a very fiscally sound district,” said principal Jeff Anderson. “We get audited every year, and our [accounts] are always in good shape. [The deficit] is really related to the state budget; this is the effect that we’re feeling.”

Although the 2009-2010 budget will be balanced, the budget for 2010-2011 continues to look grim because of cuts in state categorical funding and less revenue from local property taxes, according to district superintendent Cary Matsuoka.

Because of California’s budget crisis, many districts within the state are again receiving fewer funds and cutting back on expenses. As the state decreased the cost of education, it also imposed a 20 percent cut across most categorical funds in all school districts. Basic Aid districts such as LGSUHSD receive all of their general funding from local property tax and avoided some of the most severe cuts that affected non-Basic Aid districts this year.

The categorical funding for the LGSUHSD—which finances specific programs, such as guidance counselors, instructional materials and the special education program—has been reduced to zero as a part of the Basic Aid “fair share” negotiated in the state legislature this past summer, said Anderson. Categorical funding for the district was $2.1 million in 2008-2009 and $1.47 million in 2009-2010.

History teacher Matt Torrens, who heads the School Site Council, said the group last year distributed $100,000 in categorical money to various programs and projects in the school. He said the council be distributing $40,000 this year—with all of money coming directly from the district rather than the state.

“We sort of streamlined how money is getting out,” said Torrens. “[The budget deficit] has forced us to streamline and organize ourselves; so even though we have less money, it’s clear how that money will be spent. Before, [the School Site Council’s tasks] were spread all over, but now we all sort of have our assignments to address the needs.”

Another factor in the district’s deficit is an anticipated decrease in this year’s local assessed valuation numbers—property value—which means that the district is collecting less money from property taxes than usual because of a falling real estate market.

“[The local assessed valuation numbers] are not confirmed yet,” said Anderson. “They might be higher; they might be lower. Where we need it to be, to keep the $1.6 million deficit from getting bigger, we need it to be 3 percent. If it goes down 2 percent, then the $1.6 million deficit gets bigger; if it goes higher, then the $1.6 deficit will be lower. That’s key.”

Because of the overall downturn of the state and national economy, teachers will not be receiving a raise in their salaries in 2010.

Students who have heard of the potential cuts feel that their education and extracurricular activities could be affected. Along with a the possibility of having fewer teachers and less instructional material on campus, expenses, equipment and trips for the athletic and music departments may also diminish.

“From the music departments perspective, I know we’ve been cutting back on [equipment], such as not riding lavish buses,” said junior Neya Vishwanath. “Just from little things like that, I can see [the financial deficit] taking place.”

In addition, electives with few sign-ups will most likely be cut in order to conserve money.

“[The school] is thinking of re-doing the entire senior English curriculum,” said senior Allison Wustrow, “but that would be bad for the budget, because you have to buy all the new textbooks and train the teachers on the new topics.”

Because of the current nation-wide financial crisis, many students feel that the district’s financial deficit was inevitable and not to be blamed on district officials.

“We’re not going to solve [this problem] really soon or in a day, because it’s the whole country, the state, and everything,” said Vishwanath. “If the economic issue is resolved outside of this school and we cut back within the school, that would help.”

District officials are deciding whether to extract some money from the district’s $3 million emergency strategic reserve—a rainy day fund to help weather financial crises. Other ideas the district brainstormed during a recent meeting of the committee to help tackle the problem were the alignment of Saratoga and Los Gatos High School’s schedules in order to reduce the hiring of new teachers; closed campus for LGHS freshmen and sophomores to promote the purchase of cafeteria food; adult education to educate unemployed adults in a variety of subjects so they could eventually acquire a job and pay tax to the government instead of taking unemployment benefits; an on-line summer school; and a decrease in supplies, staff and construction contracts.

“As much as it is possible, we want to try keep everybody on the job and to make sure that we have people to serve [the students],” said Anderson. “[Students] can go without a new textbook next year and could go buy [their] own colored pencils, but people are what make schools go. If it’s all possible, that’s what our priority will be: to maintain the folks that could serve [students].”

A Budget Advisory Committee meeting will be held in December to discuss plans for minimizing this deficit.

“This will be an interesting winter,” said Anderson.

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