District needs to find cash to solve woes | TahoeDailyTribune.com

District needs to find cash to solve woes

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Lake Tahoe Unified School District has kept itself fiscally healthy amid an uncontrollable declining enrollment phenomenon, but revenues could be higher while costs could decrease, according to a state report.

The evaluation, done by School Services of California, noted the district is lacking in other local revenue — which includes parcel taxes, lease and rental income, interest income and transportation fees. The district brings in $2.3 million less than 19 Northern California school districts it has been compared to.

The district is facing a $1.4 million shortfall because of declining enrollment. That figure is expected to get worse in coming years.

Superintendent Diane Scheerhorn has become increasingly supportive of a parcel tax, a type of property tax, which would have to be passed by two-thirds of the voting population. It will likely be introduced by June, Scheerhorn said.

While not yet knowing how much revenue would be generated from the tax, which would probably be enacted for four years, it is expected the passage would prevent the district from closing a school.

Ron Bennett, head of School Services of California, said a parcel tax is tough to pass in communities, and may pose a challenge to South Lake Tahoe. Absentee voters who own vacation homes would likely oppose any increase to property taxes, he said.

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“You have a real tough road ahead,” Bennett told education officials last week.

The more specific the ballot language, the better the chances are for passage, Bennett said. He added the district needs to explain the benefits of the parcel tax to absentee voters.

Only one unified school district that LTUSD was compared to receives less funding for average daily attendance. LTUSD receives $4,429 per student who fills a desk on a regular basis. The figure is determined by the state.

Bennett said 93 percent of the ditrict’s roughly 5,500 students attend classes. The state average is 95 percent.

“Your funding could go up 2.5 percent if you could get up to the state average,” Bennett said.

The district can lower costs by replacing the warehouse that provides supplies to schools with an office superstore contracted to deliver products.

Bennett concluded 83 percent of LTUSD’s $37 million budget is geared toward salary and benefits. He said 81 percent is the state average.

“When you get above 81 percent things are getting tough,” Bennett said.

Bennett recommended an attractive early retirement package for the relatively high amount of senior teachers in the district. Retirements would create an equal distribution of staff and reduce personnel costs.

Jimmy Vaughn, president of the South Tahoe Educators’ Association, said teachers and the district have agreed on an early retirement incentive. Under the agreement, the district has the option to offer the incentive this year or wait until next year, Vaughn said.

“We would like to see the district offer the incentive this year and have been encouraging them to do so,” Vaughn said.

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com