Board Discussions Prompt Response From Union

Sophia Bollag, Managing Editor

The district began preliminary discussions of next year’s budget at a board meeting on Monday, Jan. 23, and then continued those discussions at the following board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

Budget Services Associate Superintendent Chris Learned and Superintendent John Nickerson said they believe the best case scenario for next year would involve over $2 million in deficit spending for the district. In the worst case scenario, Learned projects that the district will face roughly $5 million in deficit spending.

“We have to assume the worst case scenario,” Nickerson said.

Learned said the district plans to take action to mitigate the potential deficit spending.

“What we’re looking for is $2 million,” he said. “A million dollars from outside sources, parents clubs, foundations, and $1 million in reductions.”

The teachers’ union, the Acalanes Education Association, said it opposes Learned’s plan, which was discussed at the two board meetings.

“AEA’s position is that there shouldn’t be cuts,” said Nick Carpenter, a Miramonte teacher and the Lead Negotiator for the union.

At the end of this year, the district is projected to have a reserve of over $10 million, which Learned said is equivalent to about 19 percent of the district’s expenditures this year. The state mandates that the school district keep a reserve of at least 3 percent of expenditures.

Before the Wednesday board meeting, Carpenter said the agenda included plans to discuss ways to reach the district’s suggested goal of $1 million in reductions.

“AEA feels that, since they have such a large reserve, these cuts aren’t needed,” he said.

Carpenter said the union believes the district is going down a path that will possibly lead to layoffs. AEA has come to this conclusion based on the district’s presentation materials from the board meeting on Jan. 23 that the district uploaded to its website.

“It is very surprising,” Carpenter said. “With such a high reserve, we thought layoffs were out of the question.”

However, the district says it did not officially propose any cuts at the Jan. 23 meeting, nor did it plan to do so at the Wednesday meeting, though at press time the meeting had not taken place.

“I’m not sure how the message got out that the district is out to do mass layoffs,” Learned said. “That simply did not come out of that board meeting.”

Learned said all that was discussed at the Jan. 23 were the implications of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget plan on the district’s budget for the next few years.

“My budget projection is we will deficit spend by $5 million next year,” he said. “I know the controversy is the district is sitting on a 19 percent ending fund balance. When you plug in the numbers for next year, that fund balance goes down to 10 percent.”

Learned said his projection is based on several major factors. First, he predicts that the district, which is in a period of declining enrollment, will have 179 fewer students next year, resulting in a reduction of $1.1 million of state funding. Second, if the governor’s tax initiative for education funding doesn’t pass in November, the district will lose an additional $2.2 million. He also said expenses for the district will increase by $1 million because there will be no furlough days next year as there have been in past years.

According to Learned’s multi-year projection, which assumes that Brown’s budget will not pass, the reserves will still be far above the 3 percent mandated by the state by the end of 2012-2013 school year. However, by the end of 2013-2014, the reserves will have dropped to 2 percent, and at the end of 2014-2015 the reserves will be completely depleted, and the district will be bankrupt.

“The district could absorb the worst case scenario next year, but the following year there would be major problems,” Nickerson said.

The union maintains that there is enough uncertainty surrounding Brown’s budget and the fiscal situation for the next three years that cuts should not be made at this time.

“We think it’s inappropriate with a large ending balance to go forward with layoffs,” Carpenter said. “We would like to persuade the board to reconsider what they are doing.”