School district considers budget cuts to fill state shortfall
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Reductions to physical education, music, athletics and other programs will be considered by the Lake Tahoe Unified School District board in the light of proposed budget reductions announced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this month.
The district would need to shave at least $860,000 from its budget, creating a new combined annual deficit of $2 million. The board will meet Feb. 12 to revisit budget scenarios that were reviewed during the last round of cuts in 2009.
Board president Wendy David called the governor’s announcement “discouraging.”
“We just continue to be in a time that brings incredible challenges to education as it does to many other government agencies,” David said. “It’s discouraging, but I think our district has done well in being proactive and realistic and keeping our vision of making decisions that are in the best interest of our students.”
During the last round of cuts, the board chose to eliminate summer school and the district’s safety officer, a job that school employees stepped in to fill.
Programs that the board previously preserved included physical education in the elementary schools, the district-wide music program, athletics and class-size reduction initiatives for kindergarten to third grade. All of those programs will be back on the table for examination at the Feb. 12 budget workshop.
“These are things that make education a rich experience for (students) and for their overall success,” David said.
She stressed that class size is closely linked to student achievement.
“We are really trying hard to maintain our class size reduction,” David said. “Academic achievement is tied to the smaller class size.”
The $860,000 potential loss comes from a combined $225 per-pupil reduction in funding. Before the governor’s announcement this month, district officials were anticipating a $1.2 million annual deficit. The new figures raise the estimate to $2 million. The final figures and cuts will not be known until the state legislature adopts the budget.
“We’re always concerned when a governor puts out a proposal and just have to see what the legislature puts out at the end,” said Debra Yates, district chief financial officer.
Schwarzenegger also proposed capping central administration – district staff – costs at 4 percent of a district’s budget. But Yates said Lake Tahoe Unified is already operating at 3.8 percent.
Her concern is that the district would still have to absorb the revenue limit reduction and that it could “decimate” the district office, which includes 11 employees, including the superintendent, human resources personnel, the business office and technology employees.
David said it’s a scenario she can’t imagine.
“That is such an absurd expectation of the state that I haven’t even got my head around it,” David said. “Who’s going to administer a program? How do you run a school district without human resources?”
David suspects the administrative cuts are just a threat.
“I’m not putting a lot of work and anxiety into that,” she said.
David also praised the community groups that have stepped in to help the district with its programs when funding is scarce.
“I really appreciate the strong community support for our school,” she said. “I think that has really helped for the last 12 years.
“Our community, our service clubs, our foundation – they’ve really helped fill that void with grants and donations and just collaboration with the district,” she added.