School board OKs tentative budget

COSTA MESA — The school board has cut $12 million from its next budget without eliminating programs or reducing employee salaries.

Newport-Mesa Unified trustees Tuesday night unanimously approved a $246.8-million tentative budget for 2011-12, using reserves to get it through as revenues dwindle.

The district budgeted $231.4 million for its general fund, which pays for the day-to-day expenses. The amount is nearly on par with last year. The district has made $25 million in cuts over the last three years.

Revenues, though, have continued to decrease to an estimated $222.1 million — down about $18 million over the last three years.

The biggest challenge has been health and welfare costs, acting Supt. Paul Reed said.

The largest portion of the budget — nearly 86% — is employee salaries and benefits at nearly $198.7 million, according to budget documents.

Employee benefits make up nearly 23%, and although employees began contributing toward their benefits last year, the costs to the district have still increased.

Teacher, supervisor and administrator salaries are budgeted at $102.8 million, and $43.5 million has been allocated for classified employees who include instructional aides, nurses and nutrition service workers.

For the second year in a row, neither of the two employee categories will receive a cost-of-living increase.

N-MUSD lost $11.9 million in "fair-share reduction," money from the state, which is meant to even the playing field between basic aid districts like Newport-Mesa and other districts, which have fared worse in the budget cuts.

Basic aid districts rely on revenue from local property taxes to fund the mandated per-student amount. A district's property taxes have to meet or exceed the per-student amount to become basic aid.

The tentative budget assumes that the fair-share reduction is the only cut the district will be subject to.

But, the district could face an automatic reduction in school days if the state doesn't receive the $4 billion in new revenues it counts on in its budget, Reed said.

The school board is slated to approve the final budget in late August.

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