Anticipated budget shortfall worse than initially feared
A ballooning budget deficit has forced the Eastern Sierra Unified School District (ESUSD) Board to set a special meeting for Friday night, March 12 at 7 p.m. at Lee Vining High School [NOTE: Previous reports stated that the meeting would be held at the elementary school, but the meeting will indeed be held at the high school] to discuss how to trim an anticipated $2.2 million budget shortfall for next year.
The Board is expected to meet in closed session at 7 p.m. with the public meeting to be held at 7:30 p.m.
In an announcement Tuesday, ESUSD Superintendent Don Clark called for the permanent closure of 30 percent of the schools in his Mono County district.
In addition to closing campuses, Clark also planned major staff layoffs and involuntary teacher reassignments affecting every community in the district.
Public backlash has led the District to back away from its school closure plan. On Friday night, however, the ESUSD Board plans on issuing another eight layoff notices to certificated employees.
This is in addition to six notices previously issued at the last ESUSD Board meeting on Feb. 24.
Schools on the chopping block included Lee Vining Community Day School, High Desert Academy in Benton, and nationally ranked Eastern Sierra Academy in Bridgeport. More than 30 students would have been affected.
Ironically, however, The Sheet has learned that the certificated positions being eliminated correspond to teaching positions at the above-mentioned schools.
In a phone interview Thursday, ESUSD Human Resources Director Mollie Nugent acknowledged that “the positions listed on the resolution correspond to positions that would be eliminated if we stopped operations at the three school [sites].”
Teachers who currently teach at these three sites won’t necessarily be pink-slipped, she added. Rather, the district’s least senior teachers within their respective disciplines (positions outlined in the resolution) would be pink-slipped first.
Community members have expressed concern about the potential loss of the schools and that no analysis had been provided evaluating alternatives to campus closures.
In fact, the California Department of Education features a rather exhaustive “best practices” guide to potential school closures on its website: www.cde.ca.gov/LA/fa/sf/schoolclose.asp.
In the fact-gathering phase, the Dept. of Education recommends that an Advisory Committee be convened.
“It is a legislative intent, but not a mandate, for a district to have and use a District Advisory Committee (DAC) ‘before decisions are made about school closure’ (Education Code Section 17387). But whether an intent or a mandate, the advice is good. The job of the superintendent and board members is to evaluate facts, not gather them.”
So how’d we get here?
The first interim financial report for the district, which covered the period ending Oct. 31, 2009, showed a projected deficit of about $800,000.
Mono County Deputy Superintendent Colleen Wright warned the ESUSD Board in January that “because of the large deficit spending projected by the District along with the projected reduction in local property taxes, the county office encourages the district to carefully review property tax revenue projections to ensure future interim and budget reports are fiscally credible and able to be certified as positive.”
It appears this advice may have been overlooked.
ESUSD Fiscal Director Jessica Denison said it was only after receipt of the second interim financial report on Jan. 31 that ESUSD became fully cognizant of its financial predicament.
At that time, she said some additional pieces had been added to the puzzle.
The District’s share of property tax revenues, for example, came in $500,000 below projection.
In addition, the District learned it would receive no more American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) stimulus dollars next year, another $200,000 hit.
The $800,000 deficit from October had ballooned to $1.8 million.
And suddenly, ESUSD Superintendent Don Clark didn’t look like such a great candidate for the Mono County Superintendent’s post, though any potential candidacy was mercifully deflated by a conflict with state education code (a District Superintendent can’t be a County Superintendent at the same time).
ESUSD Board member Tad Roberts seemed as caught off-guard as anyone this week. He said the recommendations of specific school closures were “inadvertently posted.”
“I’ve had a lot of phone calls from parents,” he said. “And they want some input as to where to make cuts.
The Board wasn’t really notified for input either,” he added candidly.
Mono County Office of Education Superintendent Catherine Hiatt said she did not hear of the news herself until Wednesday morning. Geisel would characterize her tone as less than pleased about the brewing fiasco.