School District Budget Cuts Discussed

This evening, the Menifee Union School District discussed budget cuts, and talked about which services will be getting axed in the coming ye...

This evening, the Menifee Union School District discussed budget cuts, and talked about which services will be getting axed in the coming years.

Parents are going to want to read this.

It was a well-attended meeting, but mostly attended by teachers and faculty.

Among those services discussed: busing, counseling, music, class size reduction, and even shutting down one of the schools entirely.

Some decisions were made by the Board of Trustees at this meeting, but overall, no final decision will be made until next week's meeting.

Included in the presentation, were recommendations from the district administration on what services could be cut, and how much money could be saved by making those cuts.

Eliminating "class size reduction" for grades K, 1, 2, and 3, could result in savings of $1.7 million during the 2008/09 and 2009/10 school years. Class size reduction refers to attempts made by the district in previous years to reduce class sizes, resulting in better education for kids, and making teachers' jobs more easier. By undoing these attempts, class sizes would grow larger, but would result in cost savings for the district.

Many teachers in the audience walked up to the podium to voice their displeasure for eliminating class size reduction, and urged the Board to not make budget cuts in the classrooms. The Board made a decision not to eliminate class size reduction for all grades K, 1, 2, and 3 combined, but left the possibility to eliminate it for just K or 3, or both.

Also discussed quite seriously was to completely eliminate school busing, either for elementary, middle school, or both. Cutting elementary busing would result in a savings of $1.5 million over the 2008/09 and 2009/10 school years, while cutting middle school busing would result in $1.6 million. Dan Wood, assistant superintendent, said that eliminating both would result in only $1.8 million savings, because buses and staffing are shared between the two school levels.

It's also worth noting that the district administration said that eliminating school busing has the adverse effect of lowering school attendance. This was an interesting point because it would lower the district's "average daily attendance", and would result in lower state contributions.

Trustee Irey asked Dan Wood if they could find more money by raising the school bus fees. Wood answered that he already studied it, and raising the fee from $190 a year to $220 a year would result in extra income of $40,000 a year tops.

Closing down Menifee Elementary School for the 2008/09 school year was also seriously considered, and would result in a savings of $590,557. Students and teachers would be absorbed into other schools. The Board decided they would leave this option open, and won't make a decision until next week.

Another serious budget cutting move was to delay the opening of the new Quail Valley and Southshore Elementary Schools for one year, resulting in a savings of $1.1 million. The teachers in the audience were very supportive of this option, giving applause every time it was mentioned. However, Trustee Giardinelli made a case for taking this option off the table, citing the fact that they already promised the parents new school boundaries for the 2008/09 school year. However, it's still being left open as an option.

Eliminating music from the school curriculum was discussed, and a few teachers voiced their displeasure for cutting it out. Cutting it out would result in a savings of $600,000. However, the Board decided it would not cut music.

It was also decided not to cut counseling at all. A proposal called for cutting out counseling completely from elementary, and reducing it 50% from middle schools, would result in a combined savings of $730,000. However, both teachers and counselors made emotional pleas to leave it alone. The Board agreed.

One teacher addressed the Board by suggesting that they delay the adoption of new text books, and that this could save the district some money. However, assistant superintendent, Karen Valdes responded that the State has certain laws in effect that require school districts to maintain certain standards in textbooks, and that where the district is at right now, there simply is no way they can delay new adoptions.

One parent addressed the Board by saying that the presentation didn't include salary cuts from the school administration, which resulted in a loud applause from the audience.

Gil Compton, another assistant superintendent, pointed out that across the school district, they spend approximately $400,000 a year making photocopies. Compare that to the $590,000 the district would save by shutting down Menifee Elementary for one year.

The Budget Shortfall

Today's budget meeting resulted from last January when the Governor announced a $14.5 billion shortfall of state income, and recommended a 10% cutback on public school spending. The Governor issued guidelines to all school districts on what to expect, so that they could determine how this 10% cutback would translate to each district.

Menifee Union used this guideline, and determined that they would realize a $10 million loss in state contributions over three years, beginning with the current year (2007/08).

To make up for this projected $10 million in losses, the district administration was able to identify $5.68 million in savings by eliminating several teaching positions, most of which are unfilled, as well administrative positions. It also included reduced spending in various places, like safety, operations, technology, furniture, and facilities maintenance.

They also found that they could apply for a special State grant of $2 million just because the district is currently on a multi-track schedule. By obtaining that $2 million, it raises the savings up to $7.68 million.

The district still needs another $2.32 million in cost cutting to nullify the $10 million in projected state losses. To achieve this, the school district suggested cutting some services, but because these services have a direct impact on students, it necessitated discussion by the Board, and public input.

These services I already discussed above, but here they are again (with savings in parentheses)...

  1. Elimination of Class Size Reduction for grades K and 3 ($848,000)

  2. Elimination of Class Size Reduction for grades K, 1, 2, and 3 ($1,708,856)

  3. Elimination of elementary counseling ($310,000)

  4. Reduce middle school counseling by 50% ($420,000)

  5. Elimination of elementary music ($600,000)

  6. Eliminate elementary school busing ($1,500,000)

  7. Close Menifee Elementary for 2008/09 ($590,557)

  8. Delay opening of Quail Valley and Southshore Elementaries until 2009/10 ($1,106,290)

The Board voted to remove items 2, 3, 4, and 5 from discussion, meaning that they were not an option for cost cutting, but also note that this still leaves item #1 open for discussion.

The Board also discussed another option, to go ahead and open up Quail Valley Elementary, but convert it into a K-8 school, meaning combining both elementary and middle schools into one. The reason for this is because a huge chunk of the school busing costs involves transporting Quail Valley students. So, if the new Quail Valley school could accomodate both elementary and middle school, the district could completely eliminate busing from Quail Valley.

Assistant superintendent Gil Compton remarked that it's not a given there would be any cost savings by combining two school levels into one school, and that any savings from eliminating busing could be negated by the higher school operating costs.

Assistant superintendent Dan Wood remarked that not only are losing money due to the State income shortfall, but we're also getting less per-student spending because student enrollments are down. The foreclosure problem, and the rising unemployment rates have dropped student enrollment by 300 at the beginning of the school year, though the district has recovered much of that since then.

Trustee Giardinelli commented that the district could stop watering and mowing the lawns. But Trustee Irey responded that it would cost them a lot more to restore the lawns once economy gets back into shape.

Next Meeting

The Board of Trustees is expected to make a final decision on eliminating busing, eliminating class size reduction for kindergarten and/or 3rd grade, closing down Menifee Elementary, delaying the opening of Quail Valley and Southshore Elementaries, and the rest of the budget nightmare, next week, on February 26, at Menifee Valley Middle School, 4:00pm.

There will be a public comment session before the Board makes it final decision.

In the meantime, the Board would love to hear comments from the public on cost-cutting ideas and sources for untapped revenue.

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  1. Thanks Steve for this info. I had emailed at 10 anxious for it. This truly is a crisis. 34 kindergartners in a classroom again! I vote NOT TO OPEN THE NEW SCHOOLS in lieu of crowding our K or 3rd grade classrooms. Smaller classes help students master the skills of reading, writing, and math and give them a firm foundation for the other grades. Socially, they have a better school experience in smaller classrooms. Losing class size reduction is a big step backwards for our kid's education. Parents need to get involved and save class size reduction.

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  2. Where does measure B fall into this ?

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  3. Measure B is outside of all this.

    Money for Measure B is considered to be facility costs, which is a different animal than operating costs. We're simply talking about operating costs here. Measure B funding will continue.

    However, the three new schools that Measure B is building may not open on time, because the district may not have funds to operate them. Considering that student enrollments have tailed off, there is no longer a reason to have them.

    At the meeting today, someone complained to the Board that the district campaigned heavily that Measure B was badly needed to reduce overcrowding in schools, yet now the Board is talking about closing down Menifee Elementary, and delaying the opening of Quail Valley and Southshore.

    To their defense, however, the School District put Measure B on the ballot back last Summer, several months before the Governor dropped this budget bomb on us.

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  4. Just curious...the district is receiving a $2 million state grant for being multi track; how much would it save if it went single track?

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  5. Does the district receive money for the use of their facilities, such as multipurpose rooms? If so, what if schools allowed use of their facilities for after school care? There is a huge demand for after school care here in Menifee. And if there was some sort of program at the school sites, I think working parents would love it - if nothing else then for the convenience alone. They wouldn't have to find transportation for their kids to get them to after school care. Or would this create more work for custodians and increase other costs too much to make it worthwhile monetarily?

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  6. There were some very disturbing decsions made last night, none of which should have been made in the absence of the Board President. Where were you Mr. Twyman on one of the most important meetings of the year? Many of us were counting on him as a classroom teacher and a parent to reason with the other Board members who believe that music (which only services 3-5 with recorders and instruments as it is) is more important than class size reduction. Yes, music is important but all teachers have CDs students can sing to and we can put our kids in music lessons just as we do soccer... I really hope that just as they removed the items last night, they can add them again for reconsideration once the public has their opportunity to speak.

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  7. Yes, music should not be a priority over class size reduction. As a bit of clarity with the funds: The state funded a huge chunk of class size reduction (CSZ)back when "there was money" (Davis "daze") Slowly they have been funding less and making the districts absorb the cost of CSZ into their operating costs. Now the district is financially responsible for the entire "program." However, CSZ has to be a priority! If we lose it in K or 3 they will eventually get rid of it altogether.It has enabled us to increase scores and make our schools successful. Our schools will take a turn for the worse in both teacher and student performance. Behavior in the classrooms, and on the playground will be affected by more crowded conditions. Less adults to student ratio means less performance all around and everyone loses out. PARENTS NEED TO ORGANIZE and get on this or MUSD will ax CSR.

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  8. The schools do charge a fee to use the facilities. All of the youth sports in the area pay a fee have practices and games at the school locations.
    There is also the YMCA that holds child care at, I believe, 2 school locations.

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  9. I think getting kids to and from school is more important than eliminating class size reduction. This is a major safety issue as well, especially for kids who live far from school. You're going to have kids walking to school when its dark outside to get to school on time. What about parents with no cars? What are they suppose to do?

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  10. Bussing obviously cannot be sacrificed due to possible drop in attendance which will result in drop in revenue. Class size reduction has to be saved to save school performance and make sure school is safe, successful, and enjoyable for the little ones. What about reserves? I hear a lot about reserves. The state requires that a district keep 9% in reserves for bad times. I am just guessing here onthe exact number. I heard that MUSD keeps a lot more than that. In this time of crisis, isn't it time to use reserve money to cover important programs for at least a couple years in hopes the economy bounces back? Or are reserves just used to make income in the form of interest from the bank? If the economy does not bounce back at year 2 then do the tough cuts. I would like to hear from MUSD about how much in reserves they have and what they are going to or supposed to use it for.

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  11. In response to the above comment regarding reserves...

    The District discussed the reserves at the meeting. It's 3% of budget.

    The reserve is only for "unforseen events". For example, if the Governor decided to show up at Ridgemoor Elementary and give a speech, it would incur additional costs from the district to make preparations.

    The reserve is not to be used as part of normal operating costs.

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  12. Delaying the opening of the new schools is the obvious best choice for the district. With declining enrollment it would not be a strain on the school sites to accomodate the students for another year on the track system. Menifee USD has been talking about traditional school year forever and it just doesn't seem like it is going to happen. Something always comes up. The fact is they actually do a pretty good job of handling year round. The teachers like it and the kids are used to it. It makes so much sense to delay this for another year and not open the new schools, especially with the option being eliminating class size reduction. Parents need to get on board and block the elimation of class size reduction. Kindergarten today is not the Kindergarten of ten years ago. Kids are expected to be reading and writing and have a solid grasp on math as they enter first grade. Kids are going to be WAY behind in 1st grade if the class size goes up in K. The Kindergarten day is short enough and then adding 14 extra kids. Wow! Big mistake. I know of some districts, like Irvine, who have 34 Kindergarteners in a class, but the big difference is this area is not as likely to have a ton of parental help in the classroom as say the Irvine district. I know of a Menifee Kindergarten teacher who has one parent helper one day a week. Some may say well there are two Kindergarten teachers per day and they can both help each other. That sounds reasonable until you step into the shoes of one of them for a day and see how much planning and preparation is involved in a kindergarten day. Teachers should not have to give up 3-4 hours of there time after school to make up for the district's decision to cut from the wrong area.
    DELAYING THE OPENING OF THE NEW SCHOOLS IS THE WAY TO GO!!!!!!

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  13. According to the meeting last night the district is required by the state to keep 3% in reserves. The district does not want to keep the bare minimum due to the possibility of other costs to come that they have not projected for. Dr. Callaway stated that even though it would appear we are in great need and should be able to dip into these reserves the State does not agree. I just don't think the district was creative enough with the solutions presented. We need options such as decrease busing, not eliminate. We also should be eliminating things that can easily be put back into place- music, elementary counseling, opening the new schools. Once class size reduction is gone- its gone, just like the middle school prep period teachers gave up a few years ago to save money. I know that elementary counseling is going to upset many people and it sounds harsh, but we need to really explore the program that costs $310,000 to be sure that it is money well spent. I think that is sounds good to have counseling, but is that really the reality or is a feel good buzz word? Keep in mind students can only see the counselor 1 time without parent permission...are the students in real need going to get the permission? Probably not. Also the counselor is only on campus 2 days a week and serves only a very few students, unlike the middle school where a counselor is there everyday (so if you need help on the 3 days there is no support something else has to happen anyways). I know that the regularity of the visits is not consistent. Also there has been a high turn over of counselors as well- we have gone months without one. As a parent I feel it is my responsiblity to get my kids in couseling if they need one and set them up with friend/family member that they can talk to. Schools cannot do it all and they can do even less with a loss of $10 million. Teachers already wear the counseling hat as does administration maybe they could just do a bit more to save class size reduction. Schools already have Character Counts programs and 40 Assets- maybe more can be done with those? Again, this is a cut that can easily be put back in place. So if we cut the two new schools -1.1 mil, elementary music 600,000, elementary counseling 310,000 and reduce busing and increase costs of tickets and/or operate smaller schools on a single track calendar that should equal the $2.3 mil we need.

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  14. Great points Tina. My daughter was in Kindergarten at Ridgemoor last year and I helped out. I could not imagine the classes being any larger than they were. I felt my daugter was well taken care of.
    3rd grade seems like it may be okay with 25 kids, but I am only throwing that out there. I am not a teacher so I wouldn't know for sure about that.

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  15. The idea of there being two teachers in a class in K is not the reality. The district is year-round that means that 25% of the staff is off any given month. In smaller schools there is only 1 K class per track, therefore there is one class without a partner teacher every month. On top of that parent help and support is declining and not consistent, especially at the sites that need it the most. Both parents are working, sometimes 2-3 jobs, or at home with smaller children and no childcare. We should not take this out on those children that are least able to take up for themselves. Anyone that supports class size reduction needs to walk in a teacher's and a child's footsteps and they will surely see that that is the WORST decision that can be made.

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  16. The removal of Class Size Reduction should be the very last resort. Children who struggle in K and 1st grade will have a negative attitude about school and usually struggle for the remainder of their academic career. Additionally, the teachers have a hard enough time trying to test the kids now with only 20. There is no way for a teacher to spend the necessary 20 minutes or so with an individual child and still watch another 29+ kids. It is physically not possible. The more parents that show up and speak at the meeting Tuesday night, the better the chances are this cut will be spared. Please encourage all the parents you know to attend the meeting and urge the board to spare Class Size Reduction!

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  17. I think cutting Class Size Reduction would be devastating at any grade level. The only reason why our students are so successful right now is because of the attention and early basics they received in K-3 grades. Cutting the budget here would be like taking one giant sized step backwards. Just watch those nice, high test scores fall right off the chart!

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  18. I also say we do not open the new schools to be able to save money for the district. From the sounds of the board meeting music and counseling are already off the list to be considered. Plus I think their should be other options available to choose from.

    I was amazed that they left losing class size reduction in K and/or 3rd grade for an option. I don't understand why they didn't vote to get that off the list. Board member Rita Peters seemed to try to tell the board that she also wanted that off the table, but they would not vote on it!

    My child is in Kindergarten and he overheard my husband and I talking about this and he even said, "There is not enough carpet space for 30 students." Even my child knows this is unrealistic!

    The third grade teachers may be able to handle 30 students, but student performance probably will go down.

    Also if they are getting rid of class size reduction then that means they have to get rid of teachers. They will need to lay off quite a few teachers since there will be less classes with more kids in them. I don't think an option where teachers are losing their jobs and student and teacher performace will go down is an option that they should have left on the table. Parents and teachers need to be at this upcoming meeting and share their concerns, especially about class size reduction.

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  19. What is truly astounding is that the board member who bills herself as a "reading specialist" only seemed concerned about saving the elementary music program. Where are the boards' priorities? Did they listen to the parents and teachers begging them to leave class sizes (and Menifee Elementary) alone? It seemed like only Mrs. Peters was listening to her constituents.

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  20. I hope people really remember what the Board is doing and saying when election tim