June 2010 home page

  Devil in the Details
Shelley Atkinson | Pine Needles


I don’t know about you, but I lost interest in As the District Turns. From the 7-11 experiment to the storied exodus of our last Superintendent, it was painful to watch the drama unfold. After all, are adults really supposed to act this way?

But perhaps it’s time to tune in again. With the current district and state financial crises, some grown up behavior is sorely needed. On the plus side, there are some new plot wrinkles: the Financial Task Force (FTF) has just presented its findings, and we have a new Superintendent.

A serious review of numbers is somewhat premature as the District will not present its 2010-11 budget until late May, and the governor’s new budget proposal is in review. But it’s fair to say the outlook for education funding is quite grim.

“We’re a target,” says Dena Whitington, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, referring to the biggest fear: the potential loss of our Basic Aid status. Currently, California allows districts that collect property taxes in excess of their Revenue Limit to keep the funds. As the state looks hard for money to cover the many gaps, and gubernatorial candidates campaign for equal funding for all students, it seems more and more likely that the district could lose this benefit, resulting in a 30% revenue reduction.

The FTF’s broad recommendations covered the district’s reserve policy (the consensus is to start spending them); a basic aid contingency plan – including declaring an economic state of emergency; expense reductions; revenue generation (from a paid tuition preschool to a parcel tax) and other ideas such as solar energy implementation.

And while there is some debate over property tax revenues – there is a contingent that feels the District is working with overly conservative numbers – it is hard to believe that when factoring in reassessments, delinquencies and foreclosures these numbers won’t change for the worse. Whatever the final numbers in August, layer on the fact that the district will not receive its $1 million federal subsidy for 2010-11, and that the state in April took in 30% less tax revenue than expected, it’s time to pay attention.

Rita MacDonald, a Financial Task Force parent representative said she was shocked by what she learned about district finances. “I was incredulous 95% of the time. Many things seemed like complete craziness.” She hopes that more parents get engaged: “Read the budget. Read the teachers’ contract. Attend a meeting. Be more aware because the devil is in the details, and there’s all kinds of spin.”

Whatever FTF recommendations the Board adopts, the wake up call is here. Says Whitington: “We’ll have to wait and see how deep the hole is, and what we are going to have to do to dig out.”

So, folks, tune in AND find your shovels!


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