As much as $2.4 million likely for 2009-2010 school year
By Linda Harmon
To make ends meet, local schools may end up with shorter years and bigger class sizes.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the board of the Ojai Unified School District was presented with recommendations for immediate cutbacks due to the accelerating budget problems.
Superintendent Tim Baird outlined the cuts and planned responses to budget shortfalls anticipated to continue for at least two and possibly five years.
Baird explained possible budget scenarios which had been presented at the Governor’s Budget Workshop earlier in the day. Baird recommended the board look at plans for emergency spending cuts not only in the midyear budget, but for the upcoming two years.
“I’d compare the scenario to being in the Army, and you are either being sent to Iraq or Greenland, you have one day to pack and you better start packing now,” said Baird.
Baird announced anticipated reductions of $800,000 for midyear, a reduction of $1.6 million to $2.4 million for the 2009-2010 school year, and at least another additional $800,000 in 2010-2011.
Baird presented two possible courses of action by the legislature in response to the current crisis, and suggested the board have plans in place for either, as soon as possible. Baird said he favors the governor’s plan among “the dismal possibilities” as it provides some flexibility in dealing with the cuts, but added that we’re still “setting the clock back on education.”
“With the governor’s plan we think we have the midyear cuts handled,” said Baird. “There will still be some mandated programs, but with flexibility, we are not to a class size of 50 yet.”
Baird is currently looking at an 18-month budget that includes planning for the 2009-2010 year budget. The district is looking at identifying additional areas for cuts and will establish a priority list, “working on all alternatives simultaneously.”
Planning options include adopting a shortened school year (by five days), recommending increasing class size in second, third and ninth grades only, keeping cash in reserves, and looking at further staff cuts.
“Staffing issues will come first,” said Baird. “We can’t wait on layoff notifications, due by March 15 for certified employees and April 29 for classified.”
The board was also presented with charts of information comparing OUSD wages and benefits to other area schools. According to documents provided, Ojai teachers’ salaries ranked 16th out of 21 districts in Ventura County. Management salary comparisons showed a similar trend placing Ojai employees at or near the bottom when compared to similar districts.
Cash flow is another issue due to budget delays that Baird addressed. He has met with county officials to ensure there is money available for the short-term cash flow problems but cautioned that OUSD’s cash flow still needed to be monitored carefully.
“For example the $300,000 the district set aside and saved for math texts,” said Baird, “they will not be bought this year. Maybe next year we won’t buy the science text we looked at earlier this evening after all.”
According to Baird, if the budget crisis continues as projected, possible actions include further deep layoffs and extensive program cuts. In a worst-case scenario, with no further cuts possible in a bone-dry budget, Baird advises bringing in the county for budget planning, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team for consultation, and local legislators for emergency legislation.
Baird stated long-term fixes need to be developed instead of the short-term ones the legislature has relied on in the past. With the economy suffering and tightening credit available, the state has hit a wall.
“Our budget crisis is worse because we can’t borrow to ease the crunch,” said Baird. “California has the worst credit rating in the country.”
Baird outlined some possible long-term budget solutions including: the California Teachers’ Association recommended a 1 percent tax designated for education; new ballot initiatives, possibly one in June; legislation forcing acceptance of previous year’s budget for the current year if new budget is not approved by June; a California budget efficiency act that makes passage of the budget possible with a 55 percent majority instead of the current two-thirds requirement.
When asked whether he felt approval of this year’s state budget would be decided soon, Baird replied, “They’re acting as if it’s business as usual.”
Despite the budget gloom, board members made a point of thanking those who have stepped in to help the strapped district. A partial list of donations was read by Linda Taylor, board president. The district has opened an account to hold donations, many coming in $89 amounts replacing the defeated November parcel tax.
“We are thankful to the number of individuals in our community who have stepped up,” said Baird adding, “we all need to get back into that mode.”
In other business, Nordhoff principal Dan Musick presented the Western Association of School and Colleges Accreditation Report produced as part of a state-mandated self-study program for schools. The visiting committee’s report evaluates the school on whether it is accomplishing its stated purposes and functions.
“The report looked at over six years of changes at Nordhoff,” said Musick. It covers five areas: vision and purpose, curriculum and instruction, accessibility, accountability, and school culture. The data includes informational surveys from parents, staff and students, along with state testing. Musick reported the school’s Academic Performance Index had increased by 78 points, the state goal is 800 and Nordhoff’s is now at 775.
“We found that parents felt we were strong scholastically,” said Musick, something brought out in 90 percent scores in English and language arts and almost 90 percent in math exit exams. “They did want us to find more ways to become more career oriented.”
Musick pointed to the past success of “smaller learning communities,” like Nordhoff’s Medical Arts Academy and the new Media Arts Academy, as a way to benefit “middle band” students, who are not in advanced or remedial programs.
The report demographics showed an increase in student Latino population from 19 to 30 percent and noted staff did not meet goals of growth targets for Latino, lower socio-economic groups and special education students.
“Our goals reflect those findings,” said Musick, explaining that each goal has a detailed action plan in the report. “We have added two English classes, literacy classes for 10, 11, and 12, and another class for ELO and special education students who need background courses.”