SPESD holds workshop and tells community members of budget crisis

January 29, 2010
Santa Paula News

Trustees of the Santa Paula Elementary School District held a special budget workshop Tuesday night and learned what they already knew, that the district is in a financial crisis.

About 200 people came out to the Community Center to hear the bad news that the SPESD is facing a $3.3 million dollar deficit next year.  

The district filed a qualified interim budget report in December. A qualified report means the district might not be able to meet its financial obligations in the 2010-2011 school year or the following year. At the first interim report in December, the board was told that the district had a $2.3 million dollar budget gap. With new budget information from the state, it now appears that deficit next year will be at least $3.3 million.  

“Our cash at the end of this year, without borrowing money, will be gone probably at the end of March or in April,” Acting Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Moffett told the gathering. He said the shortfall this year is because of the state deferring payments to school districts. “The bills continue, but the state continues to send the money they owe us one to two months late.” The district is planning on borrowing the money to cover the delay in state funding.  

Moffett added: “Unless we make significant changes by our second interim report we’ll be filing a negative position. That means we are saying we are unable to pay our bills.” If the district reaches that point, Moffett says the state steps in and takes over the district, canceling union contracts, firing the superintendent and assistant superintendents. The elected board also loses much of its power. “We have no intention of getting there,” he added. “We have difficult decisions. We will get through this.”

Assistant Superintendent for Business Cathy Bojorquez reported the district has come up with almost $593,000 in savings this year. She noted they have cuts of $815,000 from next year’s budget. This leaves a gap still of $1.9 million for next year.  

“We need to be prepared for more cuts to education,” Bojorquez said, “because I don’t see how they’re going to balance the budget without it. Our goal is 3.3, so we really should cut more than that.”

More possible budget cuts were presented to the board, all subject to negotiation with the unions involved. The biggest dollar cut would be to increase class size. Doing this would eliminate anywhere from eight to 36 positions, depending on what the board and the unions worked out. Other potential cuts involve programs like English tutoring, art and music and GATE. These are also subject to negotiation, since they involve personnel.

A few audience members got up to speak as well. They all expressed hope the board would try to keep cuts away from the classroom.

One written question involved Superintendent Dr. Winston Braham, who has  been out since the start of the school year. Board President Dan Robles said Dr. Braham has been out on extended sick leave, and he said the board has been anxiously awaiting his return. “We are hoping that he will come back healthy because he’s had a very severe case of double pneumonia and it’s taking a little bit longer than we had anticipated, but we are hoping for him to come back as soon as possible,” Robles said.  

The next regular board meeting is February 6 at 7 p.m. The board is likely to schedule more budget sessions as well next month.

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