Trustees: Our schools put in tough spot
California’s budget crisis is hitting schools hard. The Nevada Joint Union High School District is preparing to cut approximately $1.5 million in people and programs for the next school year, based on expected funding cuts.
This year, the district is serving 4,312 high school students. The district operates two large campuses – Nevada Union and Bear River – along with seven alternative and continuation schools. The Nevada Joint Union High School District’s mission is to provide every student with educational opportunities that will empower them to reach their full potential and prepare them for work and lifelong learning. Over the years, we have supported this mission by investing heavily in teachers, keeping our focus on serving students in the classroom.
In California, the average high school district spends 53 percent more of its budget on administrative salaries than NJUHSD. At the same time, our district spends 7 percent more than the state average on teacher salaries and 15 percent more on employee benefits.
The average California high school district spends 20 percent more of its budget on classified (support staff) salaries than NJUHSD.
We have been looking for, and implementing, cost-saving measures in every area in recent years. The promotion last summer of the director of personnel and pupil services to an assistant superintendent position was one of these cost-saving measures. We have a one-person personnel department at the district, responsible for 368 full-time and part-time employees.
The director position is a 10-month assignment, similar to teacher and school staff contracts. Yet much personnel work needs to be done in the summer so that our schools are staffed when the doors open in mid-August. This created additional workday costs for the director position. Rather than pay those costs, we changed his title and made him a year-round employee, thus saving the district $5,220 each year.
The governor proposed several mid-year funding cuts, which have yet to be confirmed by the Legislature. The district implemented a spending freeze in December, which should help cover this loss of funding. No one knows how much the mid-year cuts will be; we are all waiting on the state to decide the amount of funding cuts.
Funding for the coming school year, which starts for us July 1, looks even more bleak. The district is being advised by state representatives and school finance experts to plan for substantial funding cuts from the state, which will drop our revenue by an estimated $1.5 million. Final numbers will not be available until the state passes a budget for next year.
The Legislature is supposed to pass a budget by June 30, but they will likely miss that deadline. Since our schools start in mid-August, we are having to make staffing and program decisions before we know for certain the level of funding we will have to work with.
Even more difficult is the state requirement that we notify our certificated (teacher) employees of any layoffs for next school year by March 15. We do not want to overestimate our revenue cuts and give notices to any more teachers than necessary. Yet if we underestimate the state cuts, we can not go back later and reduce teaching staff.
As mentioned above, we started the school year with a budget of $31.5 million. If we made no changes, keeping all our employees and programs, we would need $32.3 million to operate next year. Our costs go up each year in the areas of utilities, insurance, supplies and longevity pay increases to staff and teachers.
Our district is also feeling the pinch from the county-wide drop in student enrollment. In the last four years, the enrollment in our high schools has dropped by 120 students. We are expecting funding for 100 fewer students next year. That drop of 220 students represents a reduction in revenues of $1,166,000.
As the next step in the budget process, our assistant superintendent of business is forming a staff and community advisory committee to assist her in developing the budget that will ultimately be presented to the board in June. The budget must also be approved by the county superintendent of schools, so we are working closely with Dr. Terry McAteer and his staff.
Jon Katis and Diane Correll are trustees of the Nevada Joint Union High School District.
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Town meeting on funding for high schools
WHEN: 7 p.m. today
WHERE: The Senior Center at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley
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The California State Association of Counties, the voice of California’s 58 counties, would like to thank Nevada County Supervisor Heidi Hall for her strong leadership in supporting broadband for all in the state budget.