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School district financial health dependent on tax extension

POSTED January 11, 2011 10:57 p.m.

Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget for 2011-2012 leaves a lot of unanswered questions for the Turlock Unified School District. Officials say that if California voters don’t approve to extend a set of taxes that are about to expire the results could be devastating for local school districts.

“We’re kind of in a limbo without any knowledge of what the worst case scenario can be for us,” said TUSD superintendent Sonny Da Marto.

Governor Brown recognized that education has born a disproportionate share of budget cuts in recent years. The proposed budget, released on Monday, would keep the K through 12 education system at its current level of spending. However, it does propose that a total of $2.1 billion be differed until the 2012-2013 year.

“This is 25 percent of our cost for this year deferred to next year,” Da Marto said.

The proposed budget is also contingent on a set of taxes that are set to expire this year. Brown requested that lawmakers put an initiative on the June general election ballot that would extend those taxes for another five years. K-12 education would take a $2 billion cut in funding if the taxes were allowed to expire.

“If (voters) don’t continue the tax it could be devastating. The district couldn’t withstand that,” Da Marto said.

Lori Decker, chief financial officer of TUSD, said the $2 billion at stake could equal anywhere from $4 million to $8 million from TUSD alone. The district has already cut around $11 million from their budget in the past few years. Federal stimulus money allowed TUSD to avoid laying off faculty in the 2010-2011 school year, but those were one-time funds. This year the district will use Education Jobs money for the same purposes.

“But again, those are one-time funds. It’s a Band-aid over the problem,” Da Marto said.  

Recent cuts to the district include cuts to maintenance, operations, supplies, support personnel and delayed text book adoption. Many open positions were cut from the district rather than filled with new employees. All district employees also took a 5 percent salary reduction.

“That’s our biggest expense, salaries,” Decker said.

The district might have to restore money to some union employees in April because of collective bargaining agreements. If the state taxes are not extended, Da Marto and the district might have to ask for that money back in June.

TUSD introduced their “Just Say Go” program in 2009 to encourage students to attend school and educate parents on the value of regular attendance. Aside from the educational value to students, regular attendance can also benefit the school district by increasing Average Daily Attendance, the number used to calculate some school funding.

“Just Say GO increased attendance by 1 percent, but our enrollment was also down 1 percent. So it leveled out,” Decker said.

The district has to turn in their yearly budget for the 2011-2012 school year in June, regardless of whether the state budget has passed or not. For now, Da Marto and Decker say that the future of the district depends on the extension of those state taxes that are about to expire.

“Expenses go up every year, and we have planned for that. But those additional cuts would be devastating. My hope is that the economy turns around, but right now we just don’t know,” Da Marto said.

To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail agoodwin@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.

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