The Menifee Union School District, this evening, voted to close down Menifee Elementary School for the 2008/09 school year, as well as cutting elementary counseling and elementary busing, in response to the Governor's proposal to reduce public school spending.
The decision came after last week's Board meeting where district staff announced that the reduction of state funds would translate to a $10 million deficit for our district. To make up that $10 million, the district was able to trim $5.68 million from various funds, including the elimination of several unfilled positions. In addition, they found they qualified for a $2 million grant from the State for being a multi-track school.
That still left the district with another $2.32 million to make up.
In last week's meeting (link), the district staff listed several services that could be cut to make up that deficit, but would require discussion from the Board, as well as public input.
This evening, the Board voted to cut the following...
- Close Menifee Elementary for 2008/09 ($509,557)
- Elimination of elementary counseling ($310,000)
- Eliminate elementary school busing ($1,600,000)
This totals up to $2,419,557.
The district also voted to offer limited elementary busing just for those students of Menifee Elementary that would have to be moved to Chester W Morrison. This would add $60,000 back on to the budget, reducing the savings to $2,359,557
Add that to the $5.68 million they already cut, and the $2 million in state grants, that gives us a total of $10,039,557. The exact figure is actually $10,035,293.
The Multi-Purpose Room of Menifee Middle School was about filled to capacity, and many more parents attended. The meeting spent about 90 minutes hearing comments from the public.
Quite a few parents, and children themselves, stepped up the podium, and implored the Board to keep Menifee Elementary School (MES) open. One girl wore a t-shirt with the words, "Save MES" painted in red. Other parents belted out the point that it made no sense to close MES after voters passed Measure B, raising taxes to build three more schools. Other parents pointed out that MES was recently nominated for California Distinguished School, and it would send the wrong message to shut it down.
The Board's decision to close down MES was made possible because of their decision to open up both Quail Valley and Southshore Elementaries. Students living Quail Valley currently attend MES, and therefore opening up Quail Valley would drop MES' enrollment low enough that it didn't warrant keeping it open. Other students now attending MES would be moved to Chester W Morrison Elementary.
Eliminating elementary busing was also made possible by the opening of Quail Valley and Southshore. A large chunk of busing expenses comes from transporting Quail Valley students to MES, and by opening up Quail Valley Elementary it makes a lot easier to eliminate busing altogether.
But because moving other MES students over to Chester W Morrison would create a transportation hardship for some families, the Board decided to offer elementary busing just for these students. Assistant Superintendent Dan Wood said that it would cost $60,000 over the 2008-2010 school years to offer this limited service.
The decision to cut elementary counseling appeared to have been an easy one. Even though the Board decided not to cut it last week, all five Board members were singing a different tune this week. Trustee Giardinelli said he had attended four elementary schools this past week, and spoke to several teachers who said that counseling was not well utilized, and that there's a heavy turn-over of counselors. Elementary counselors are currently provided by a contractor.
The District Administration added that they could delay their salary increases for the 2008/09 year, which would result in a savings of $90,000. However, it wasn't needed. But the Board voted to keep that on the table, for future considerations.
The issue of the reserves was frequently discussed. Trustee Twyman explained to the audience that the 15% reserve figure was something that existed before the District finalized its recent contract negotiations with the Menifee Teachers Association. That cut the reserves down to about 10.5%. That still left the District with 7.5% of reserves above the state minimum of 3%. He explained that the district administration already raided that 7.5% to come up with the $5.68 million of cost cutting. By law, they can't use the 3% to pay for normal operating costs.
Several parents and teachers suggested the "Golden Handshake", which is offering older teachers an early retirement. The district said that they already studied this at length, and that it would not result in cost savings. Assistant Superintendent Gil Compton said that he met with a consultant that offers these types of retirement packages, and they advised it would not make fiscal sense. It short, to encourage older teachers to retire early, they would have to offer large enough sums of money, that it would negate any cost savings.
The June 30 Deadline Factor
Trustee Twyman spoke to the audience to explain that the Governor's recommendation to cut back public school spending by 10% is simply a recommendation. It's ultimately up to the State Legislature to decide if they want to accept that recommendation. The Legislature is required by law to adopt a new budget by July 1, and it could very well be that they'll vote to make no cuts at all.
Trustee Giardinelli addressed the audience by saying that even though the State is required to have a budget in place by July 1, they'll likely not have one in place until months later, perhaps September, or even December. However, the School District does not have the luxury of postponing its budget.
Giardinelli went on to point out that if the State postpones its budget, the District is still required to move forward on its recommended budget cuts, as of July 1.
Trustee Twyman used this fact to argue that any cuts they make ought to be ones that can be quickly and easily reversed, should the State vote to make no school budget cuts. Therefore, he had recommended they keep MES open, on the grounds that once kids are moved over to Chester W Morrison, it would be logistically difficult (and expensive) to move them back over to MES. So he instead voted to cut middle school counseling, arguing that they could quickly reinstate it. Ultimately, he was outvoted.
The Next Step
Last night's meeting was pretty much it. All eyes are now on the State Legislature to see if they'll adopt the Governor's recommendations.
The School District is asking everyone to write or telephone our local state legislators and implore them not to make any cuts in school funding. You can contact them here...
State Senator, 36th District - Dennis Hollingsworth
27555 Ynez Road, Suite 204, Temecula CA 92591
Phone: (951) 676 1020
Fax: (951) 676 1030
State Assemblyman, 66th District - Kevin Jeffries
27555 Ynez Road, Suite 205, Temecula CA 92591
Phone: (951) 699 1113
Fax: (951) 694 1039