Calaveras Enterprise

CUSD teachers weary of district budget practices

Just a week after members of the Calaveras Unified Educators Association voted overwhelmingly to authorize strike powers, questions over the Calaveras Unified School District’s budget projections resurfaced at Tuesday’s meeting of the board of trustees.

At a Sept. 12 meeting of the board, a union-backed audit was presented that claimed that the district’s budgets have shown a history of higher expenditures and lower revenues during the planning portion of the budget cycle. However, the union stated that when the budgets were officially finalized, expenditures dropped and revenues increased.

CUSD teacher and certified public accountant Sharon Schlaglemilch said that it showed a cycle of overcautious budget construction from the district, a trend that she said has been consistent to the detriment of teachers.

“As we know, the projections are not forecasts, they are projections,” said Schlagelmilch.

Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, CUSD Director of Business Services Kassandra Booth gave an overview of the district’s fiscal cycle and changes to the 2017-18 budget. Booth defended the district’s spending habits, stating that the budgets are formed with caution in mind due to the volatility of the governor’s budget. She said that the amount of funding the district receives from state and local sources fluctuates throughout the year, which causes the district to build its budget cautiously to avoid over-spending.

Booth pointed to changes in county developer fees and the state’s Local Control Funding Formula over a three-year period as examples where initial estimates of revenues changed.

Parents at the meeting questioned whether it was time for the district to construct its budgets in a less cautious manner if it meant putting the district in a position to attract and retain teachers and staff.

Booth offered three different multiyear projection scenarios during her presentation. Scenario one includes average class sizes of 24 to 1 in grades kindergarten to three, and 30 to 1 in grades four through 12 with no budget increase. According to district estimates, it would result in a reserve of approximately $3.095 million after the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Scenario two included the same class sizes as scenario one, but included a 2 percent retroactive salary increase from 2016-17, with an ongoing 2 percent increase for 2017-18. A salary increase for administration and classified staff would also be worked into the budget because of what are called “me-too” clauses in contracts. The reserve, according to the Booth, would shrink to $550,000 by the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year in scenario two.

Both scenarios one and two were alluded to as possible solutions if both sides could agree on the details and potential cuts that would need to be made to maintain the reserve level to the state-mandated 3 percent.

Scenario three however, which included the same class sizes as scenarios one and two, featured a 4 percent retroactive raise, and an ongoing 6.5 percent raise, which would result in a deficit of in excess of $4 million by 2019-20, according to district estimates.

The teachers’ union asked for a 9.5 percent raise when negotiations started over a year ago and reduced that to 4.5 percent earlier this year.

Calaveras County Office of Education Associate Superintendent Claudia Davis said that scenario three would likely result in the state assuming control of the district due to fiscal instability.

Calaveras County Office of Education Fiscal Adviser Terri Ryland, who has helped Davis with oversight during the district’s troubled financial times, was asked to give an overview of her experiences with state-mandated district takeovers.

Along with a fiscal expert coming in to assume control of district operations, the school board and the district superintendent could be relieved of their duties, Ryland said. More than likely, a multimillion dollar loan would have to be requested from the state, which would have to be repaid over a 20-year period. On top of the loan repayments, the district would also have to fix its ongoing local funding concerns.

“The districts I’ve worked with in the past, you always work with the board to make sure it doesn’t get to that point,” said Ryland.

As the meeting came to a close, CUEA President Lorraine Angel informed the board that the teachers have agreed to authorize a strike vote, but they hoped that when they returned to the negotiating table on Wednesday, a signed contract could be the result.

Angel asked the board to authorize CUSD Superintendent Mark Campbell to take up the recommendations made by what was termed a neutral fact finding panel’s suggestions that were made earlier this year.

Trustee Sherri Reusche opened the meeting by informing attendees that she had recently met with members of the San Jose and Cupertino school boards to gather tips on how to protect programs from closure under difficult financial pressure.

She said that she would like to receive more information on Program Budget Advisory committees to help oversee budgets to avoid cutting services in the future.

The board of trustees reconvenes at the CUSD Administrative Office at 6 p.m. Oct. 17.

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