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School Board Criticizes District for Underestimating Revenue : Moorpark: The administrators had warned of a $2-million deficit, but they ended up with a $1-million surplus.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Moorpark school board members are criticizing their own district administration for grossly misjudging the district’s financial situation over the past fiscal year.

After facing as much as a $2-million deficit in fiscal 1992-93, board members said they discovered that district staff underestimated state revenues and overestimated expenses, resulting in a year-end surplus of $1-million in a $22-million budget.

Supt. Tom Duffy said the dramatic swing from red to black was a product of the district’s fiscal conservatism given the uncertainty of state funding.

“What we try to do is look at things recognizing that we are not in control of what goes on, and taking a conservative approach makes sense,” Duffy said. “Our goal isn’t, ‘Let’s make sure that our numbers are great and we look good.’ Our goal is that our instructional program is as full and vibrant as it has been, and it is.”

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But board members--while pleased with the unexpectedly bright financial outlook--said Duffy and Assistant Supt. for Business Services Carmela Vignocchi are so conservative that it forces them to operate in ignorance and costs the district credibility with its employees and unions.

“I could see missing by a few hundred thousand dollars,” board member Clint Harper said. “I can’t see missing by $3 million . . . that’s like a 10 to 15% variable, which is incredible.”

Other school districts around the county fared considerably better than Moorpark in estimating revenues and expenditures.

In the Ventura Unified School District, the ending general fund balance is routinely within 2% of the administration’s prediction, said Georgeann Brown, director of budget and finance.

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When the Oxnard Elementary School District adopted its $56-million budget in June, 1992, officials estimated a year-end combined general fund balance of about $6.8 million, said John Fitzgerald, director of finance. The district recently calculated its ending balance at about $6.9 million.

The Conejo Valley Unified School District estimated in April that it would end the fiscal year with an ending fund balance of just over $2 million, and ended the year with $2.3 million in a budget of $76.3 million, said Sarah Hart, assistant superintendent for business services.

Moorpark board member Tom Baldwin said the failure to accurately gauge the district’s financial status compromises his ability to serve constituents.

“We simply have to have a better idea of knowing what’s going on with our spending,” Baldwin said.

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Vignocchi said she anticipated a $1.6-million deficit in August, 1992, but revised that to a $900,000 projection in January. She said the anticipated deficit never amounted and she questioned board members’ interpretation of district finances. She said she takes a conservative approach to school finance and continually informs the board that her projections represent the darkest possible picture.

“I don’t really believe there’s such an easy answer to any of this,” she said. “Our budget philosophy has always been to predict the worst-case scenario.”

Operating under such a scenario, the school board last year considered a hiring freeze, told its teachers and classified employees unions there was not enough money to support the raises they were seeking, held off on buying new textbooks and agonized over a decision to take out a $600,000 loan on behalf of a citizens group building a high school athletic stadium.

Harper said that an accurate reading of the district’s financial status could have made all of the decisions easier--and changed some of the outcomes.

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“We’ve lost credibility, entirely, with our bargaining units because we’ve been telling them, ‘We can’t give you anything,’ ” Harper said. “You can’t do that too many times before your unions just don’t believe anything you tell them.”

Moorpark Educators Assn. President Richard Gillis said Wednesday that the district’s position at the bargaining table doesn’t mesh with a $1-million surplus. The two sides declared an impasse earlier this year, and teachers will begin the new school year under the terms of their expired contract.

“This is not new with them. This is something that has gone on for years,” Gillis said. “This has been a recurring problem and they have lost a lot of credibility . . . the ongoing effect of that is that you have a low morale among your employees.”


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