School district's finances OK for two years

COSTA MESA — The Newport-Mesa Unified School District can balance its budget for the next two years, but after that, programs and services could face the chopping block, depending on what the state does, officials said.

Acting Supt. Paul Reed presented a report that analyzed the district's financial status at Tuesday night's board meeting. The report shows the district keeping its head above water for two years, no matter what happens with the troubled state budget.

"We have challenges coming, but we're where we need to be," he said.

The report outlined three different options for what might happen with the state and how it will effect district funding.

Each scenario calls for Newport-Mesa to dip into its reserves in order to get by — a move projected to saddle the district with a wide budget gap of $100,000 to $15 million by 2012-13, Reed said.

"When you get there, it is going to be a very tough challenge from what we know today," he said.

Trustee Martha Fluor said the district needs to start planning and looking at which programs and services it wants to protect, and what could be done more efficiently.

"We need to be prepared," she said. "We need to start looking at alternative ways."

Trustee Katrina Foley asked to look into the possibility of creating a subcommittee to examine revenue-generating options.

The district has cut $24.8 million from its budget over the last couple years to keep up with funding decreases and dwindling local revenues, according to spokeswoman Laura Boss.

"We have been preparing for this financial downturn for the last five years," Trustee David Brooks said.

That planning, combined with how the district is funded, has left Newport-Mesa Unified in a better position than other districts around the state, Fluor said.

Other district have cut music programs, increased class sizes and shortened the school year to balance their budgets.

The latest rounds of cuts will force districts to "amputate portions of the school day," Fluor said.

Newport-Mesa will be able to maintain programs and services, but that is it, she said.

Developing new innovative programs or courses, or buying new textbooks and computers, will be out of the question, she said.

"Forget about that," she said. "Let's not talk about anything new or moving our district forward into the 21st century …because there's no way to do it."

The Outcomes

What could happen in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District based the three predicted paths Sacramento could take.

Best

Situation: The governor's budget with the tax extensions measure passes.

Cuts: The district loses about $19 per student in 2011-12.

Outcome: Funding remains fairly stable and the district is able to balance its budget by using reserves. An estimated $100,000 budget gap is projected for 2012-13.

Middle

Situation: The governor's budget passes without the tax extensions measure.

Cuts: The district loses about $349 per student in 2011-12.

Outcome: The district would draw more out of the reserves to balance its budget, creating an unsustainable situation. An estimated $2.6-million budget gap is projected for 2012-13.

Worst

Situation: The governor's budget passes without tax extension and with the Legislative Conference Committee's "fair share" reduction proposal.

Cuts: The district loses about $570 per student in 2011-12.

Outcome: A significant drop in revenue would force the district to use reserves until they are depleted to barely above the legally required amount. An estimated $15-million budget gap is projected for 2012-13.

A Vote For Tax Extension

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution Feb. 15 supporting putting a tax extension measure on the June ballot.

The measure calls for extending the personal income tax, vehicle license fee, and sales and use taxes at the current levels for five more years to help balance the state's $25-million budget gap, according to the state Department of Finance.

"We're not saying vote one way or another at this time," said Trustee Martha Fluor. "We're asking [legislators] to put it on the ballot so we can vote."

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