School district weathers state budget crisis

May 28, 2009 — by Jenny Zhang

As many schools across the state prepare to let teachers go and cut programs next year, SHS students will have much the same school experience as they had this year. Though bracing for additional cuts this summer, the Los Gatos Saratoga Union High School District (LGSUHSD) put together a balanced budget for next year that eliminates no staff and keeps classes roughly the same size as this year.

Adding to the problems schools face was the failure of Propositions 1A-E on the May 19 ballot. This will force the state legislature and governor to come together in Sacramento later on in June or July to do a budget adjustment and most likely make another cut to the categorical programs of schools, said LGSUHSD superintendent Cary Matsuoka.

“We’re sending the budget problem to the governor and legislator group that isn’t working very well,” said Matsuoka. “So I don’t have any hope that they’ll fix the problem.”

Currently, the only definite cuts made to the district budget have been in categorical funding: 15 percent this school year and 20 percent next school year. The school district has already absorbed the cuts made for this year, according to Matsuoka, but the 20 percent cut for next year was made based on a balanced budget the state built on the five propositions that did not pass. This leads Matsuoka to believe there will be future cuts in categorical funding. Even if the state decides to cut 20 percent from the categorical budget of LGSUHSD, the district will still be able to make ends meet, he said.

As a Basic Aid District, LGSUHSD will not be affected as heavily by state cuts as will other school districts in the state because only 15 percent of the $36.8 million district budget for the next school year comes from state and federal categorical funding. The remaining, majority portion comes from local property taxes.

The district monitors property tax collections closely, especially looking ahead to next year, said Matsuoka. Although property prices have not decreased, property sales in Saratoga and Los Gatos have dropped, slowing down district income.

“[Our property tax income] didn’t grow as fast as we’d like,” said Matsuoka. “We’ve adjusted our income growth projections for next year, [but] it’s putting pressure on balancing the budget for next school year.”

In order to help balance the district budget, Saratoga and Los Gatos High will be taking a cut in their School and Library Improvement Program (SIP)/Block Grant categorical funds. This money may be used for any department but has traditionally been used for staff development. Next school year, SHS and LGHS will be getting $40,000 and $50,000, respectively, in their SIP/Block grants, which is significantly lower than the $96,503 and $127,923 they received respectively for the current ‘08-‘09 school year.

Since the district has an unprecedented flexibility next year in the use of categorical funds, it will combine previously separate funds in an effort to maintain a balanced budget. Matsuoka said funding will be cut back on some technology, and there is currently no money being set aside for new textbooks.

Another income source that will help the school in the current budget crisis is the economic stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17. The amount the district will receive could be as much as $400,000, but a portion of this one-time money will be used to supplement special educational programs and other categorical programs with midyear cuts in funding, according to Matsuoka. The remaining portion will be used to cover any future cuts rather than spending it on new items.

On a hopeful note to students, and contrary to earlier indications, the 20:1 student-teacher ratio for freshman English and algebra I classes will still be in place for next year, which reflects the district’s top priority to keep the cuts from hurting classes.

For teachers, some funding has been cut. Staff development days that take place in August before the start of the school year, also known as “buy-back days,” will no longer be funded by state categorical funds.

Although Matsuoka fully expects future cuts in categorical funds later this summer, it will be too late to make changes.

“We have a budget plan for next year based on the current information,” said Matsuoka. “I can’t build a budget on what somebody’s going to do in July or August.”

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