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Cuts, on top of $193,000 deficit, spell trouble for high school

 

Last updated 1/24/2008 at Noon



It won’t be “business as usual” for the Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD) in 2008 as it faces grim state budget cuts deemed unavoidable, a $193,000 budget deficit and the lengthy and costly process of finding a new superintendent.

While the district school board interviews executive search firms such as Leadership Associates and the California School Boards Association, which specialize in education careers, an interim superintendent has been hired to manage the district until a replacement can be found for Tom Anthony, whose buyout in December cost the district close to $400,000 in valuable funds.

On January 14, Dr. Robert L. French took over as interim superintendent, adding additional expense to the school budget already operating at a deficit. Dr. French will receive a salary of $750 a day, plus a $300-per-month expense allowance in addition to out-of-pocket expenses for food, mileage and entertainment.

If the search takes four months, which board president Bill O’Connor says he believes it could, the district budget will incur an expense of $57,000-plus to pay French – about the equivalent salary of one teacher for a year.

Adding to that is the cost of the search itself, which Leadership Associates spokesperson Rene Townsend estimates at $25,000 – approximately what the Fallbrook Football Boosters paid for team uniforms in 2006.

Meanwhile, French, the assistant superintendents and principals have the hard task of finding ways to eliminate planned expenditures for programs which they now know will have no funding.

With Fallbrook’s school enrollment already in a downward spiral, thereby reducing Average Daily Attendance (ADA) compensation, cutting education funding at the state level couldn’t have come at a worse time.

The governor’s 2008-2009 budget, released on January 10, calls for cuts of 10 percent across the board for all state programs. For education, this means a reduction of $360 million from the K-12 share of Proposition 98 with cuts primarily falling on categorical programs like advanced placement exam fees, targeted instruction improvement such as the Individual Education Plans (IEP), transportation, library improvements and school safety and violence prevention, to name a few.

Two of the most important categorical programs that will come up short at Fallbrook High School are special education and purchasing of instructional materials. Already underfunded, money to educate students with physical or mental challenges must now come from the general fund, as will the purchase of textbooks, which cost on the average $75 each.

The 10-percent cut will dramatically affect these two important areas, says Jamie Klepin, FUHSD director of finance. Further, anticipated funding will not flow to the schools as expected for the 2007-2008 year because revenue collections at the state level are one-third less than anticipated.

Since the high school district budget is already operating at a $193,000 deficit, these substantial midyear implications to the 2007-2008 budget will carry over into the 2008-2009 year.

To meet the challenge, assistant superintendent Chet Gannett says, “We will have to make adjustments in the spending patterns the balance of this fiscal year to slow that process down.”

Gannett has called a meeting of site administrators on January 24 to hear recommendations for reducing spending, the result of which will be reported at the January 28 school board meeting.

“Certainly it’s a painful exercise, particularly for the site administrators because they are focused on the accomplishments of their students,” Gannett says.

It’s a statewide problem for all schools, not only to ensure the current fiscal year will reflect soundness but the new budget will be fiscally sound as well, Gannett adds.

“It will come at the expense of activities,” he warns. Steps must be taken now, he says, in order to sustain their three percent reserves to help mitigate next year’s problems.

Gannet says the legislature will now be looking for ways to amend the governor’s budget and they can’t recess until it’s finalized. Once that happens, district administrators will have a relatively clear idea of what they have to do for the worst possible scenario, but he says it’s “full of nothing but ‘not good’ choices.”

Gannett plans to be positioned to restore cut programs if possible, emphasizing diligence to protect their reserves, and will be adjusting the budget accordingly as Sacramento legislators battle it out with the governor to reach a compromise.

 

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