Another View: School district strives to achieve with much less

Another View
By: Dave Horsey, Placer Union High School District superintendent
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I came to the foothills a little over eight years ago, looking for something different in a school district and the community it served. I was looking for a district that valued its students, staff and community, a place where people worked in partnerships with one another for the benefit of all concerned. As the principal of Placer High School for five years, I found a deep sense of tradition, pride and community support, and grew to understand the unique attributes of the Placer Union High School District and its larger community encompassing 1,000 geographic square miles. Our high schools share the beliefs and practices of the Quality Schools model. Each maintains a partnership with its respective community. In times of economic growth and prosperity, this collaboration and support are easier to accomplish. More recently, we have had to deal with unprecedented financial cutbacks that test our core values, beliefs and practices. We started this school year in a “Qualified” budget status. We are deficit spending into our reserves and spending more than our state funding. This is not due to fiscal mismanagement, but to over $8 million in reduced funding from the state for 2008-09 and 2009-10. For this school year, the state has deficited our Proposition 98 minimum guaranteed funding by over 18 percent and has deferred some of these payments into 2010-11 to address state budget cash flow problems. If we received our minimum Proposition 98 funding, we would receive $7,500 per student. But we will not be fully funded — we will receive $5,700 per student. On March 16, the district’s board of trustees passed a “Positive” Interim Budget for the current and upcoming two years. To certify this positive budget for 2010-11 and 2011-12, the board of trustees and I took measured steps to address the ongoing budget shortfall — we made cuts to enable us to live within our means. This did not come about without a cost to programs and services as we know them. Our primary mission is to insure that students receive a diploma and are ready for college, post-secondary education, and/or the workplace. Yet we are being forced to reduce our services in many areas. We first looked at cost savings measures that would have the least impact on our students. One of these is to completely close down our schools for two weeks in the summer. This has had an impact on community-provided services — even those that directly or indirectly support our students. Staffing and maintenance of our facilities cannot be sustained year-round in light of budget cuts. Our communities have given us exemplary support, namely the Measure W bond that built many new facilities and provided upgrades for our students. Yet tax and bond dollars do not fully support the ongoing costs to maintain facilities. Also, in past years, the district collected over $1.7 million in developer/school impact fees. Due to the economy and reduced construction, developer fee collection has dropped to approximately $400,000 this year. This is a $1.3 million shortfall in funds that are needed to maintain our facilities. We need the communities’ understanding of the two-week summer closure of our schools; this is one of many cost-saving measures we must implement. Facility use fees are also an area of community concern. Our high schools are the center of many community activities, which we encourage and support to promote our youth. However, the use of our facilities has an impact on district custodial staffing and time, as well as overhead costs for electricity, heating/air conditioning and overall wear and tear. The district charges a use fee to cover these costs; we do not make a profit on our facilities. These fees are difficult for many non-profit groups to afford, yet the district is not in a position to be able to absorb the additional costs when other groups use our facilities. Once again, we are asking for your support and understanding. We have had to reduce overall funding to our schools between 18 percent and 22 percent. Knowing that these reductions affect many programs, we do not take these decisions lightly. We have taken drastic measures to address an $8 million shortfall. These include cutting programs at the Placer School for Adults, not hiring back 10 of the 11 teachers who retired in 2009, laying off an additional eight teachers for 2010-11, reducing administrative positions and asking all staff members to take furlough days. By June 30, we will present a balanced budget to the board of trustees. It will be due to the support of our staff and the communities we serve. It will not be without controversy, sacrifice and painful cuts, even as we seek to maintain our core values and mission. In August, we will pull together as a school community, open our doors for another year and meet our students’ needs. I support the value of a student’s right to a public education. I am thankful for the continued support our district receives from our communities, and I consider myself fortunate to serve the students who attend our schools.