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TUSD Budget Advisory Committee in quandary

POSTED January 25, 2011 8:48 p.m.

Members of the Turlock Unified School District Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) were left speechless and clearly in shock numerous times during a disconcerting budget meeting Monday evening at Turlock High.

Due to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed temporary tax extension, which hinges on a voter and legislature approved continuation of temporary tax increases; the Stanislaus County Office of Education is asking TUSD officials to prepare for what could be a devastating budget scenario if the tax extension fails to come to fruition. The five-year tax extension includes a continuation of income, sales and vehicle license fees which are set to expire later this year.

 For the proposed tax plan to even reach ballot boxes for a special election in June 2011 the legislature must approve the plan by a two-thirds vote before the end of March.

Monday’s budget meeting was primarily an informational meeting for committee members in light of the recent announcement of Brown’s tax extension plan. If the proposed taxes are not extended, TUSD spending per students will be reduced $351.44, which could have impacts ranging from larger class sizes to reduced or even eliminated home to school transportation. 

TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto relayed his frustrations to committee members.

“What the governor has done is use education as a pawn to get an $8 billion gap filled. Personally, I’m very upset at that because we’ve (K-12 education) taken 55 to 60 percent of the cuts for the last three years when we are 40 percent of the (state) budget. We should have been unharmed in 2011-12 regardless,” Da Marto said.

In the past three years TUSD has cut more than $10 million from the budget. On top of that strong gut punch, a knockout blow would come if the tax extension fails and the district takes an estimated additional $4.3 million cut.

With such cuts looming in the future, committee members have created a list of 40-50 suggestions to cut costs. The budget reduction suggestions discussed at Monday’s meeting were preliminary in nature. Some of the larger reductions include reducing the school year from 180 calendar days to 175 days. This could save TUSD nearly $2 million; however, teachers and TUSD staff have already taken a 5 percent cut in salary over the past two years. Another deficit dent could be made by increasing class size. Currently the K-3 average class size is 21 students to every teacher. An increase to 30:1 would save TUSD $1.65 million. In grades 4-12, an increase from 31:1 to 32:1 would save $482,680.

Julie Shipman, president of the Turlock Teacher’s Association, commented on the matter via e-mail.

“I strongly hope that the tax increases will be extended...  our educational system, our students, can’t take any more.  We have lost 18 billion dollars to education in the last three years.  Education is 40% of the state budget, but has taken 60% of the cuts. California is now 43rd in the nation in per-pupil spending.  We can’t keep going like this,” Shipman wrote.

Large scale teacher and staff lay-offs would likely be avoided thanks to $2.3 million in Education Jobs federal funding, which will be saved for next year’s budget.

Even elimination of home to school transportation is up for discussion. Complete elimination would save nearly $1 million for TUSD, but committee members are unlikely to suggest such an action to the TUSD Board because it could very likely lead to a sharp decrease in school attendance, as well as hardships for families already struggling in the current economic condition.

Numerous TUSD budget committee members suggested even small cuts such as cutting staff cell phones or charging money for priority student parking on high school campuses.

In spite of the bleak budget situation, Barney Gordon, TUSD budget committee president, suggested TUSD officials and parents team up to organize an education foundation in order raise funds for schools.

 “It would be awesome; you would be amazed if you just asked people for money. A lot of times people would just rather donate money and write a check directly. Obviously, there (are) a lot of parents that can’t do that but there may be a significant amount of parents that would be happy to help,” Gordon said.

According to TUSD Chief Financial Officer Lori Decker, the district is in the process of establishing an education foundation to support the schools through rough budget situations, as well as support programs and activities that have been cut in recent years.

“We are waiting for the IRS to get back to us on our non-profit status,” Decker said.

Monetary donations to schools are tax deductible.

The next TUSD Budget Advisory Committee meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 in the Turlock High School library. At the Feb. 14 meeting the committee will begin prioritizing possible budget reduction recommendations.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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