Alarming News from the San Carlos School District

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School Board Member Mark Olbert was kind enough to pass along his recent commentary regarding the financial crisis being faced by the San Carlos School District.  Please see below:
“At this past Thursday’s Board meeting we reviewed the updated financials for the next three years.

It’s bad. Very bad.

I was on the Board during the District’s “financial crisis” in the 2002-2003 school year. That crisis was essentially home-grown; the State budget was not collapsing. We avoided major cuts — the kind of cuts that would have severely damaged the nature and quality of education in San Carlos — only through a massive expansion of the San Carlos Educational Foundation, the passage of a parcel tax, and by accepting a number of smaller cuts.

This time is worse.

As in, there are reasonable scenarios that have the District out of money by the end of the 2009/2010 school year. Just 18 months from now.

And even in the “better” scenarios we are out of business in a few years.

Unless some significant changes take place.

First, the facts. The three year financial projection shows the District unable to meet its minimum reserve obligation at the end of the 2010/2011 school year:

Projected Year End Reserves as of December, 2008

That may not sound too bad…but it assumes no cuts to the current year’s budget, which are already under serious discussion in Sacramento. It assumes no inflation for the next few years. It also assumes California’s economy is in recovery by July, 2009, and fully recovered by July, 2010. If you believe that…well, I admire your optimism. And it assumes no new negotiated salary increases for anyone in the District from now until at least July, 2011. Which, if it actually happened, would motivate experienced and talented teachers to leave.

But that’s not all. The Board has not yet made any decisions about possible program and service reductions, staff had to assume cuts to avoid an even more dismal projection. Here’s what they assumed:

  • Stop funding the District’s post-retirement retiree health benefit liability
  • Cut staff development days and staff development conferences
  • Cut counseling interns
  • Cut one night custodian
  • Reduce maintenance
  • Stop watering fields
  • Eliminate teacher development
  • Eliminate Healthy Cities tutoring program
  • Eliminate K-4 physical education associates
  • Reduce special education expenditures

Remember, these have not been approved by the Board. But they are examples of the kinds of things we’ll have to consider. Even with all of this, however, the trendline is negative; the plane is going down, and the only reason the crash isn’t visible in the chart is because the chart stops before the nose hits the ground.

Actually, it’s even worse than that picture. Because if we extended the chart to include the 2011/2012 school year, the existing parcel tax expires, wiping out over $1 million of funding. So the trendline gets worse.

So what can we do, if we don’t want our kids’ education to be put at risk?

  • The next parcel tax put before the voters must not fail. We can’t afford being shy about speaking out to our neighbors who don’t have kids in school about the need for additional local resources. We can’t afford even a small number of teachers and staff members talking about how a new parcel tax is unnecessary. We can’t afford to worry about whether talking about the parcel tax is crowding out other issues facing our schools. Anyone with doubts about the necessity of raising more local money for our schools should learn the facts, and just what’s at stake (I’ll be happy to meet with anyone, or any group, to share what I know).
  • Support the Foundation. This will be hard, as times are tight for a lot of families. But every additional dollar that can be contributed will be more important now than it would have been in the past. Because today we’re not talking about supporting “extras”, we’re talking about maintaining core educational assets.
  • Support the next parcel tax campaign. The District is not allowed, by law, to fund ballot measures. That money has to come from the community. It costs a minimum of $50,000 to run a campaign. That’s what Measure S, the parcel tax voters just rejected, cost. And it was run as inexpensively as it could be. Belmont spent over $100,000 on their successful campaign.
  • Get involved in the budget discussions. Next week, the Board will launch an effort to identify every possible cost reduction. It will solicit input from staff, teachers and the community. In addition to contributing your own ideas, your involvement will ensure you aren’t caught by surprise down the road.

Saving our kids’ education will be hard. It will call for sacrifice. Including, even if we are successful in raising more local money, suspending or canceling some programs. Because it’s unlikely we’ll be able to offset, completely, the State’s financial collapse. But cutting “some” is a lot better than cutting “most”.

It will mean resisting the temptation to pull back and protect just the schools that our own kids attend. Remember: they’re all our kids. The reason we have public education is to give every child his or her shot at the stars. We have an obligation to pass along the gift that was given to us by our forbears, both those we are descended from, and those who “just” lived in the communities we grew up in.

We’ve done this before, by working together. We can do it again.”

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