‘Times that try men’s souls’ | TheUnion.com

‘Times that try men’s souls’

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This is the first of a series of articles for The Union by Dr. Terence K. McAteer, Nevada County superintendent of schools, examining the budget issues faced by our local schools.

As our local schools are trying to cope with the most difficult budgeting crisis of the past 25 years, I believe it is very important for the community to have a factual understanding of the situation.

Funding for our schools comes basically from two sources – property taxes and state funds. Imagine a cup in which our local property taxes fill the cup about 40 percent while the state funds fill the remaining 60 percent.

The cup varies from county to county. For example, in Marin, due to the high property values, the cup is totally filled with property taxes. But since Nevada County relies on state aid and the state has a huge deficit, so will our cup. On average, the size of the cup for each student in Nevada County is approximately $5,000 per year for the 180-day school year to pay teachers, administrators, aides, custodians, PG&E, goods, bus services, etc.

Please note that state lottery and federal funds are under the “No Child Left Behind” legislation. While an important source of funds, each accounts for only about 2 percent of our revenues. The lottery and federal government’s impact is quite insignificant in the big picture.

Up until this year’s budget crisis, the single issue facing our schools has been declining enrollment over the past six years. This phenomenon is occurring in all foothill regions and throughout rural Northern California.

Young families with young children find Nevada County unaffordable due to rising housing costs and a weak job market. With fewer students entering our schools, we are forced to annually cut programs and staff. For example, six years ago Nevada City School District had 1,869 students; this year it has 1,450 students, a 22 percent decline.

The high school district’s enrollment also has been steadily declining for the past few years. The declining enrollment trend that has plagued our elementary school budgets has matriculated up into our high schools. For example, the high school district enrolled 131 fewer students than one year ago. At $5,000 per student, this accounted for a loss of $655,000 in revenue. Therefore, these and other districts have had to make a substantial cut in teachers, administrators and to student programs

Certainly, some students have enrolled in local charter schools, which are also public schools, or are being home-schooled. In general, declining enrollment throughout the county has had a dramatic effect on our schools.

Following Gov. Gray Davis’ reelection in November came his public pronouncement that the state budget deficit sat at $34.6 billion and his proposal to cut school budgets. These midyear budget cuts would amount to the immediate loss in revenue to local school districts. A list of these cuts includes:

Chicago Park $20,030 loss

Clear Creek $20,198 loss

Grass Valley $401,655 loss

Nevada City $273,592 loss

Pleasant Ridge $402,962 loss

Pleasant Valley $121,535 loss

Ready Springs $81,803 loss

Twin Ridges $13,419 loss

Twin Ridges

Charter $312,211 loss

Union Hill $131,903 loss

NJUHSD $781,924 loss

TOTAL $2,561,232 loss

Since teachers and administrators are on annual contracts, per state law, it is impossible to substantially reduce staffing costs midyear. Total labor costs, including teachers, administrators, aides, security and custodians, account for approximately 78 percent of a school district’s annual budget. For the most part, these midyear cuts were absorbed through reducing reserve funds along with some savings due to halting travel/conference expenditures, eliminating new equipment and reducing supply budgets. An alternative proposal by the Legislature would shift these cuts to next year, making next year’s cuts doubly painful.

Monday: “Beware the Ides of March.”

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