After dramatic cuts to staff and campus services this year to combat deficit spending and declining reserves, the Sonora Union High School and Curtis Creek School districts are projected to maintain positive status, or above the minimum reserve percentage required by the state at the end of the fiscal year.
But, despite their positive qualification, the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools has required that the districts submit third interim budget reports by June 1 confirming their execution of those staffing and funding reductions.
Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Margie Bulkin said in an address to the Sonora Union High School Board of Trustees Tuesday night that her agreement of a positive certification was contingent on the district’s following through with the details of their fiscal recovery plans.
“Curtis Creek and Sonora had significant deficits to work from, and it's hard. A third interim acknowledges that it is difficult. It's not a punishment,” she said.
Bulkin also recommended in her speech to the board and in an email to Curtis Creek that Superintendent Pat Chabot and Superintendent/Principal Sharon Johnson, respectively, present the third interim as an information item to their respective boards to keep them involved and aware of the budgetary process.
“They've undergone a significant learning process this year,” she said of the Sonora High School board. “I said, ‘I don't want to be at this podium again. Turn in a positive certified budget.’ ”
For the Sonora Union High School District, there are still areas of concern in the second interim budget, which requires the submission of a third interim, Bulkin said, including statutory deadlines surrounding layoff notices and the absence of a Facilities Master Plan, which was noted in the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team review of the district.
“I strongly recommended that the board should not adopt a 17-18 budget without evidence that they've begun to adopt a facilities master plan,” Bulkin said.
Adding that she doesn’t review voter-approved bond money, she said it was important for the public to be aware of how the bond funds were being allocated by the district.
“They are assuming a lot of new facilities without a plan on how to maintain and operate them,” she said. “That’s the next big thing they need to tackle.”
To deal with a structural deficit of more than $500,000 per year identified in the first interim budget, the Sonora High School board passed an updated fiscal recovery plan with the second interim budget incorporating reductions that accounted for $1,905,000 in total savings over the 2016-17 through 2018-19 school years.
Reductions in certificated employees accounted for about $1,175,000 in the budgetary savings.
The report identified these cuts as $116,733 in savings for the current school year and $894,250 in savings in each of the following two years.
According to the first interim budget, the district would have been $443,463 in debt at the conclusion of the 2018-19 school year. With the changes, the 2018-19 ending balance of the general fund is expected to be $1,601,117.
The budget reflects reserves of 4.07 percent for 2016-17, 7.88 percent for 2017-18, and 8.57 percent for 2018-19. The state minimum reserve is 4 percent.
Sonora High School Board President Kathy Ankrom acknowledged that new Chief Business Officer Dana Vaccarezza spearheaded the effort to codify the cuts under “very challenging circumstances.”
“It's been a very difficult road for everybody involved. It's been extremely difficult,” she said. “We are kind of hopeful that, in the future, that in the new school year, we can just move ahead in a positive way by improving communication, collaboration, and with providing the best education, because we have such a diverse population here.”
Ankrom also said Chabot was working with the school maintenance department and people involved in the construction of Measure J facilities “to get the information together.”
She confirmed that work has already begun on preparing the Facilities Master Plan to “make sure we have the right amount of funds in the deferred maintenance fund,” adding, “it is unfortunate that this wasn't something on the radar taken care of beforehand.”
On Curtis Creek, Bulkin said, “they early on started the recovery plan that I have confidence they will act on. My letter gives them the momentum to keep that going.”
According to the first interim budget, the Curtis Creek District was on track to run a $465,451 budget deficit in 2016-17, a $617,229 deficit in 2017-18 and $693,512 deficit in 2018-19.
Prior to the submission of the second interim, the Curtis Creek board identified about $335,000 in total budget cuts with the elimination of three full-time teachers, cuts to transportation staff and district aide hours, and to a host of school special services, among other reductions.
Bulkin said it was important for both boards to maintain a special look on their budgetary concerns even after the positive qualifications are confirmed in the third interim budgets.
“In 12 weeks time, 19-20 will be the third year out,” she said. “[The cuts] are predominantly difficult on staff. I have to give them credit, because it's been painful.”
Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District, Summerville Union High School District, Twain Harte School District, Summerville Elementary School District, Soulsbyville Elementary School District, Sonora School District, Jamestown Elementary School District, Columbia Union School District and Bellview Elementary School District all received positive qualification and are not required to submit a third interim report.