District budget shows clear skies

Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees on Tuesday unanimously approved a $242 million budget — about $18 million more than last year's spending plan.

Deputy Superintendent Paul Reed, the district's chief business official, presented what he called a conservative finalized budget for fiscal 2013-14.

Reed assured the board the district is in good shape, despite the changes in funding from the state.

"We absorbed the shocks of the recession, due to prudent planning and use of reserves," he said. "We have positioned the district so that even if all the bad things come true we can be solvent for three years, which we need to be."

The budget shows a $3,387,948 deficit but Reed said that will likely improve during the year when the district receives about $4.2 million from Proposition 30 and what are termed Common Core funds from the state, Reed said.

"We only budget what we know we have right now," Reed said. "It's a conservative way of doing things."

Newport-Mesa is a basic aid district, meaning it relies on property tax revenue for its funding. This allows the district to decide how to spend its money, said Trustee Katrina Foley.

"Now that we're just relying on the property tax money, it gives us more control over what we do in our district," she said. "We can direct money how we think it needs to be used to benefit the students in our district."

The property tax growth rate is 14.2% this year compared with 0.4% in 2011-12, according to Reed's presentation to the board.

"Greater economic activity and stronger property values bode well for the future of Newport-Mesa," Reed wrote in the budget's executive summary.

The district expects to bring in $16.9 million less in revenue than last year. However, the reduction is due to a one-time revenue increase last year when the state eliminated redevelopment agencies, giving some of the funds to schools. This year's revenue is slightly more than pre-recession levels of fiscal 2009-10.

Personnel costs for the district have jumped this year due to the increase in new staff and training for current staff to prepare for Common Core, which will cost the district $4.5 million to implement this year, Reed said.

Common Core curriculum challenges students to apply their learning to real-world scenarios and develop critical thinking skills. Essentially, Common Core teaches students to ask why instead of what.

Personnel related expenditures for the district total up to $202.4 million this fiscal year, while non-personnel related expenditures are $39.5 million.

"We've managed to weather the storm. I would still like to see us do more to really address the needs of the school sites so we can start to more pro-actively eliminate the achievement gap," Foley said.

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