Per the Board's agenda packet released this week, the deficit for the 2017-18 school year was underestimated by roughly $2 million. The district's deficit, originally projected to be $7,406,668, is now estimated to be $9,291,258.
A review of the numbers reveals that the discrepancy arose because the salaries and benefits of the staff had been underestimated by roughly $2 million. It is unclear how these known numbers were inaccurately reflected in the board's budget, but what is clear is that the district's reserves "for economic uncertainties" is projected to be only 4.80%. Per the three-year projection, the there will be no funds for economic uncertainties in 2019-20 (see red near bottom of the 2019-20 column). Casual observers who attend the board meetings always ask how a board could approve a budget that looks like the one shown above, but it happens year after year.
Over the past year, a majority of the board has come under increased scrutiny for its approval of the history-making 12.5% salary increase to all staff, even new staff, while families were expected to raise up to $6 million for materials, supplies and other items through their school foundations. The 2015-18 Master Contract, effective through June 30, 2018, earned the district the San Diego Taxpayer's "Grand Golden Fleece" award for adding a combined and reoccurring operational cost to the district's budget of approximately $15 million. Such a raise, combined with the increase in the district's obligation to match pension fund contributions, will no doubt prove tricky in the years to come if the district faces an economic downturn with reserves that cannot cover the district's operational deficit.
Despite the $2 million deficit increase, the Trustees approved another faculty association .50% raise for the 2017-18 school year (to supplement the 12.5% raise) even though its current Master Contract has not yet expired. This raise will also increase the district's pension payments further adding to the projected deficits. (See Board Agenda Packet).
Per page 259 of the Board packet, the district will pay for this additional raise in part through the "deliberate use of reserves." Reserves are traditionally needed for when the district needs more funds to offset operational deficits and to avoid layoffs during periods of economic downturn. Use of the reserves for a reoccurring expense such as salaries, especially given the projected deficit, increase in the district's pension contributions, and projected economic downturn, has many scratching their heads especially given that the teachers have already been given a 12.5% raise under the existing contract.
If the district wants to reduce its reserves so badly, why not use it on one time expenditures that benefit the students? Here are some suggestions that benefit students:
How about adding badly needed shade structures throughout the district?
How about using the funds to create more career pathway or vocational courses?
How about using the funds to create and build better music programs that offer chorus and other music options like other districts?
Maybe even pay for the materials and supplies that parents keep paying for through the school foundations (that by the way, are still not accounted for in public records? )
How about funding the district's athletic programs so that parents don't have to?
We are very much in support of the teachers, but they negotiated their contract and go their raise. They have a new contract coming up for the next 3 year period that is in the process of negotiation. Any additional raises should be part of that negotiation not suddenly added to the existing contract.
Adding operational and reoccurring expenses that lock in expenses hurts the teachers and the students. What happens in the event of an economic downturn with reserves that cannot cover the deficit? C-U-T-S. Classified employees - have you felt any cuts or changes yet? You'll probably be the first to feel that this trend is coming.
Enrollment projections currently suggest that an additional 750 freshman will go to CCA next year, yet the district has no current plans to add more teachers. Can your student survive a 40 person plus high school classroom? For many, high classroom numbers mean that the parents will likely pay for tutoring. Can the teachers? Yes, if they want more raises. Who is paying attention to Heath and Wellness of the students?
Watchdog followers consider showing up at the Thursday board meetings that occur once a month. Start asking some questions. Help get the community some answers and some accountability so that the money is spent on YOUR STUDENT's programs and needs. Until then, families will continue to pay for materials and supplies, technology, athletic programs and before because the district continues to under-support our school sites.
"San Dieguito teachers to stay the highest paid," Pat Maio, The San Diego Union Tribune (12/16/15)