Last week, Superintendent Garcia presented his last budget to the Board, for passage at the June 26 meeting (the last Board meeting of the fiscal year). At a special meeting tonight, the Board dug into the budget, asked questions, made some speeches and suggestions, and considered (as required) the proposed “flexing” of certain categorical funds (“Tier III categoricals”). It was a long night — the Board started in closed session at 4:30 pm, and did not adjourn the special meeting until after 10 p.m.–but that’s not so surprising because the district’s budget is so complex.
The district expects to start the 2012-13 fiscal year with an unrestricted general fund balance of $46.2 million. $15.5 million of that is the unspendable-under-most-circumstances “designated reserve”, which means we have a healthy cash balance of about $30.5 million. Unrestricted revenues are expected to come in at $331.1 million, and the district will spend all of that plus the $30.5 million in cash, bringing expenditures to $361.6 million. The district expects to end the year with just $230,000 in cash after the designated (unspendable) reserve.
The district’s assumptions for 2012-13 include four forced closure (furlough) days for most staff and five forced closure days for unrepresented (management) employees; they also assume the district will use Prop A (parcel tax) funds to pay for three professional development days for district certificated and classified staff.
Below, you can see those figures plus projections for 2013-14 and 2014-15 as things stand now:
Of course, the district will have to submit a version of this chart to the state that does not have red ending balances and reflects a fully-funded designated reserve — if we don’t, we risk state takeover. And unfortunately, it’s not so easy as just promising to spend less, then figuring out what to cut next year (as if that’s easy). The district has to actually identify potential cuts for the state, and demonstrate that it is taking actions to actually make the cuts. (Unlike state government, which just says it will cut but then never does, but that’s another story). In our case, we are in mediation with UESF on changes to their contract that would help realize these savings, but there are also other challenges: the SIG funding will end after 2012-13, which represents an ongoing loss of $15 million; in addition we expect the Rainy Day Fund to be exhausted as a resource by 2014-15.
Beginning in the 2010-11 school year, the state began to allow districts to “flex” funding for 39 “categorical” programs — funding that is restricted for specific purposes and/or populations — designated as “Tier III” programs by the state. In return, districts must hold a public hearing detailing what portion of the money is to be “flexed” and what the intended use of those funds will be. Last week’s Board meeting was supposed to serve as that public hearing, but Board members and members of the public were not satisfied that the information provided at that meeting gave us enough specificity on either point, so the do-over was tonight.
In 2012-13, programs like deferred maintenance for facilities ($2.2 million), incentives to hire P.E. teachers ($800K), art and music block grants ($725 million) and adult education ($430K) will be entirely flexed (swept into the General Fund for use on other priorities), while others like Gifted and Talented Education, alternative credentialing programs for teachers and the paraprofessional to teacher support program (helping aides get the intern teaching and extra credit hours they need to become certificated teachers) will only be partially funded. Some, like fee waivers for needy students taking AP tests and professional development for reading and math, will be fully-funded.
There was a spirited discussion about all of this tonight, which was the intent of the public hearing requirement in the first place. In the end, five Commissioners (Yee, Wynns, Norton, Mendoza, Murase) voted to accept the Superintendent’s recommendation for flexing Tier III funds, while two (Fewer, Maufas) voted against.
How to read the budget
The Board also had a robust discussion about how to improve our communication of the budget overall. The budget book is 400-plus pages, and several Commissioners (myself included) feel that it doesn’t highlight the right things. It’s really impossible to understand unless you also have a copy of the previous year’s budget book alongside to compare how different departments were staffed and funded last year versus this year. Suggestions included:
- Add a “prior year” column to each department and school detail to enhance comparisons;
- Add a narrative to each department and school detail to highlight what changed and why from year to year. For example, last year there was a Multilingual Department, with 7.5 FTE (full-time equivalent) and $830K worth of funding, and a Lau Plan Implementation department, with 27.4 FTE and $4.4 million in funding. This year, there is just a Lau Plan department, with 35 FTE and $4.8 million in funding. I know enough about the district to be pretty sure that Multilingual was folded into Lau, which makes sense because the work of the two departments overlaps quite a bit. The FTE numbers pretty much work, but somehow the two departments lost $400K. What got cut, exactly? There’s no way to tell from the current budget book — and you wouldn’t even know what you were missing if you didn’t compare the 2011-12 book and the 2012-13 book side-by-side.
- Can we do what the City does? Apparently the City has an “award-winning” budget book according to Commissioner Murase. What does it take for them to produce their book each year and how could we learn from that?
Anyway, the best single thing one can do to better understand the district’s budget is to read the narrative pages of the current proposal, pages 1 through 40. Then read them again, cross-referencing the narrative with the exhibits on pages 41 – 67. Once you understand those two sections, you’re ready to start digging into the central office and school site detail pages that make up the rest of the book. Still, departments like special education will be pretty difficult to understand without a staff person at your side to help define unfamiliar terms and demystify why the whole book is organized the way it is.