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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