Auburn schools get an early warning

By: Melody Stone, Journal staff writer
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Last week the state released a list of the school districts in danger of running out of money within the next few years — and several Auburn-area schools made the list. Assistant Superintendent Douglas Crancer said he wasn’t surprised Auburn Union School Elementary District made the list. He said within the next two years if nothing is done the school district will be out of cash. “We are working with the budget advisory committee to figure out how to cut more costs,” Crancer said Monday. “We’re working with the bargaining units to tackle this big problem.” The budget advisory committee is also looking into a parcel tax school board measure to help balance the district’s budget for the 2011-12 school year, Crancer said. “If no action is taken we would be in state receivership in 2012,” Crancer said. This would be the worst-case scenario according to Crancer. It’s against the law for school districts to go bankrupt, so when school districts run out of money, the state steps in and takes over. Crancer said. Crancer said the state gives schools a loan and takes over operations to make sure it gets paid back. This practice was put in place to regulate mismanaged schools, but with the economic meltdown and declining enrollment schools don’t have the funds to support their operations. The schools on the Fiscal Early Warning Signs List jumped 17 percent as a result of the financial crisis at the state level. Budget Advisory Committee Chairman Tris DeMauri said when he joined the budget committee six years ago he looked for waste and mismanagement at the top. “Our districts not top heavy,” DeMauri said. “Some people have criticized the size of the district office, (but) those people are working their rear ends off.” DeMauri said the only solution to the fiscal mess would be the state stepping up and providing the schools with adequate funding. “I see us quickly going negative and within two years we’re going to have to borrow money from the state,” DeMauri said. “And that means the state takes over.” Earlier this month Colfax Elementary School District was listed as a negative status, meaning they couldn’t make financial obligations for the next school year. The Colfax Record reported the district rallied the community and the Placer County Office stepped in and figured out how to cut $240,000 out of the 2010-2011 school year budget pulling them into qualified status. Qualified status means the school district will be out of money in two school years instead of one year. The Colfax school district is also considering $170,000 in cuts for the 2011-2012 year. DeMauri said the state isn’t helping with the fiscal crisis. He said its attitude is, “We’re taking 20 percent and deal with it.” “(We’ve) tried not to impact the students, (and tried) not to impact the staff,” DeMauri said. “Short of the (tax) measure passing we’re at the end of our rope.” DeMauri sat on the budget committee a few years ago when Auburn Union slipped into negative status. He said at that time the district trimmed away all the extras and cut everything not protected by a labor contract. “We’ve been fighting declining enrollment for years,” DeMauri said. “When you’re losing 20 percent off the top — that really kills you.”