Sonora Elementary School District’s Board of Trustees discussed a dour financial forecast at Wednesday’s meeting, confronting the possibility that the district will need to increase class size in coming years to survive.
If Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increase fails to pass a vote in November, Sonora Elementary’s general fund balance will be negative by $57,431 at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year.
That’s a favorable situation compared with what may happen during 2013-14 and 2014-15, according to district Chief Business Official Julie Barrington.
“This next year looks like our last sort of normal year before the deficits really start hurting us,” she said.
District Superintendent Leigh Shampain said that changes would most likely come in the form of increased class size through staff reduction.
“We go through a whole process when we make (other) cuts, coming up with those lists and discussing the list with the public,” he said.
The discussion would begin taking place next January, he added.
At the Wednesday meeting, the Board of Trustees approved a budget that assumes the loss of $441 in funding per student.
The cut will be “triggered” if the tax initiative doesn’t pass and would be the main contributor to deficits in the following years, Barrington said.
Next year, the district would take in $4,817,390 in local, state and federal sources. Total expenditures are projected at $4,845,821.
A transfer of $29,000 from the district’s general fund to a maintenance fund would widen the gap between revenues and expenditures in the general fund.
By 2014-15, the district’s deficit would balloon to about $378,000.
“It’s flat not sustainable,” Barrington said.
Sonora Elementary finalized three part-time layoff notices in May, cutting counseling program hours so that the school counselor might teach regular classes. It also cut a special education teacher’s hours by 20 percent.
The district may face cash flow problems due to deferrals in payments from the state, Barrington added. School districts need cash on hand for immediate expenses, like paying employees.
The deficit for 2012-13 would have been about $200,000 bigger if it weren’t for the salary savings from eight staff members retiring, according to Barrington. Sonora Elementary anticipates one retirement each in the next two years.
While the board did not discuss specific cost-saving measures for the future beyond increased class size, administrators and board members acknowledged the possibility of cuts to student programs.
“How many students can you eliminate and still call yourself an adequate school?” asked board member Don Rolle.
Board President Casey Littleton said Tuolumne County’s smaller elementary schools may need to consolidate, sending their students to bigger schools like Sonora Elementary.
That would result in more funding received on the basis of “average daily attendance,” or the average number of students who attend the school each day.
“If we increase our enrollment, it could only help our budget,” Littleton said.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board got an update from the Sonora Elementary After School Education Program from program supervisor Cindy Jensen.
Funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Center initiative, the program is completely free for any Sonora Elementary student. It got about $138,500 last year.
“It’s a really well-funded program,” said Shampain.
The four-year-old program has been very successful so far, Jensen said. At the end of this year, 120 students were enrolled, and some grade levels were full with a waiting list.
21st Century Community Learning grants are given on a five-year basis, with intense competition for funding. Sonora Elementary’s grant is administered by the Stanislaus County Office of Education and will expire at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
“We’re not overly optimistic,” Jensen said. “So next year may be our last year .... I just dread what it’ll do to our families.”
Jensen explained that many parents of students in the program depend on it for childcare, since it is open from the end of the school day through 6 p.m.
The After School Education Program provides academic enrichment and support through several tutors. This year, it hired a science paraprofessional to teach science lessons.
The program also gets a family literacy grant on the same five-year schedule. It has used some of the money to send new books home with children over the summer.
Later at Wednesday’s board meeting, Shampain announced that a shipment of 390 iPads will arrive at Sonora Elementary within about two weeks. The purchase is funded through Measure H, a $7.8 million bond issue that voters approved in 2010.
As part of the bond issue, Sonora Elementary got $1.3 million from the state.
“That’s what’s funding the technology portion now,” Shampain said.
A district advisory committee for technology projects approved the iPads’ purchase in May after visiting Avery Middle School, where each student has an iPad.
Sonora Elementary students in fourth- through eighth-grade will each be issued their own iPads to use while at school, Shampain said. Kindergarten through third-grade classrooms will have sets of five iPads for the students to share.
The older students will use the iPads for writing, research and completing assignments.
“We’re not going to send them home right away, but we might do it down the line,” Shampain said.
Wednesday’s board meeting was the last for Sonora Elementary Principal Pam Vlach, who is retiring this year after about six years at the school.
Jensen presented her with an Administrator of the Year award for her strong support of the After School Education Program.
Her replacement as principal will be Chris Boyles, who has worked as a principal at Fairview Elementary School in Orland.