District continues deficit spending projections

Not much had been cleared up at the state level when La Cañada Unified’s Governing Board discussed the proposed budget for 2011-12 at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Uncertainty still surrounds how much state funding the district will receive next year, since the state California has yet to finalize its own budget. The district prepared for both the best and worst cases, in terms of state funding, by discussing a 2011-12 budget that dealt with two scenarios.

“This is a very fluid situation,” said Stephen Hodgson, LCUSD's financial consultant. “We hardly know what to expect from one day to the next.”

The first scenario, which is recommended by Los Angeles County Office of Education and School Services of California, Inc., operates under the assumption that Governor Jerry Brown’s tax extensions will be accepted and there won’t be any changes in funding from 2010-11 to 2011-12. The second scenario assumes the extensions won’t pass and that the district’s average daily attendance funding will be cut by an additional $330 next year.

Joel Peterson, a member of the LCUSD board, leaned toward the more pessimistic scenario, despite Los Angeles County’s recommendation.

“Maybe I’m jaded, I don’t know, but I think we should listen to our own drummer and march to the beat that we hear,” Peterson said.

If the district’s average daily attendance funding is cut by $330 next year, it would result in a $1.843 million cut in state funding from 2010-11 to 2011-12. Pair that with LCUSD’s declining enrollment, and the district projects to average a deficit of $4.86 million each year over the next four years.

Hodgson struggled to find a fitting adjective to describe the outlook for the district under that scenario.

“Let’s just say the situation is not looking good,” he said.

It wasn’t all bad news for the district, though, as the board was notified of one-time federal funding that had unexpectedly come through. The district accepted $758,000 and $187,367 from President Barack Obama's Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistant Act and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, respectively.

The Assistance League of Flintridge also voluntarily upped the amount it pays the district to use campuses for the Assistance League’s summer school program each year.

“They're essentially donating an extra $6,000 to use our facilities, and we're super appreciative of that,” said Susan Boyd, president of the Governing Board.

An approximate 185 new permit students coming into the La Cañada Unified next year also lightened the district’s financial burden.

“The permit students do make an incredible impact on our funding,” Hodgson said.

The district also unanimously approved Tuesday night changes to a California School Employees Association contract that calls for no salary increases negotiated or settled this year and states that no employee hired after Sept. 30 will be offered the district’s early-retirement plan.

Several members of the district and board praised how cooperative the California School Employees Association had been throughout the negotiation process.

“We couldn’t possibly afford any contract with salary increases,” said school board member Cindy Wilcox. “This is just tremendous that we as a school community banded together here.”

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