GUSD passes ‘barely balanced’ budget

The Gilroy Board of Education

The Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education must pass a balanced budget for 2012-13 – and they did exactly that during Thursday’s regular board meeting – but not before a spirited venting session peppered with trustees’ opinions on being forced to pass a “barley balanced” budget based on “fake math.”

Technically, the funding GUSD receives from the state is supposed to factor in the Cost-Of-Living Adjustment (COLA), a salary adjustment needed to maintain one’s standard of living.

However, “each year since 2007-08, we have not received a COLA, even though our expenditures have kept rising,” explained Allan Garde, director of fiscal services for GUSD.

“The state owes us $61.7 million to date because of the deficit factor,” he added. “So… they owe us a lot of money.”

Despite this reality, the Santa Clara County Office of Education requires school districts to factor in the COLA when balancing their budgets.

Exasperated with a state and county that’s “living in a fantasy world,” the dialogue surrounding this predicament turned candid during Thursday’s meeting.

Passing a budget that accounts for funding “we pretty much know we’re not going to get” is “idiotic,” blurted trustee Mark Good.

“I think we need to tell them they need to wake up and smell the coffee and knock it off,” he continued. “We need to start bringing people to reality. They’re all still on drugs. We’re still getting delusional recommendations, and at some point, someone’s gotta say, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.”

Trustees unanimously approved their 2012-13 budget, but did so “reluctantly,” and with the knowledge that failing to do so would put them in a position of having to “surrender” to the county their ability to make “responsible” fiscal decisions for GUSD.

In passing a budget – which will be submitted to the Santa Clara County Office of Education – trustees tacked on their own two cents in a message to the county at the bottom of their resolution:

“Not withstanding the foregoing this board strongly disagrees with the direction given by County Office of Education to include assumptions that a COLA increase will be granted by the state. We believe the COLA figures provided are unrealistic and if they do not materialize we will not have a positive certification. This belief is based on the fact that there has not been a COLA funded since 2007.”

Originally, trustee Mark Good wanted to include the statement, “we believe this direction to be fake math.”

Trustee Rhoda Bress wasn’t so keen on the bluntness of this expression, however.

“You had me until that last sentence,” she told Good.

“You’re asking us to be liars?” he replied.

“No,” she smiled. “I think we can say it in a more professional way.”

Transportation and transitional kindergarten: Staying or going?

Despite the fact Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012-13 budget does not include funding for transitional kindergarten – which broadens the kindergarten experience by spreading it out over two years – GUSD is factoring the program into its budget based on “push from State Senate and Assembly.”

The two legislative bodies are standing behind a current law that was passed last year, which makes Transitional Kindergarten a state-mandated requirement. Casually coined by some as “preppy k,” GUSD currently has one class at Antonio Del Buono Elementary School, and plans on adding a second at the same school site next year.

Transportation funding is another lingering question mark.

As there might “be a chance that funding for home-to-school transportation is going to be discontinued,” the district has factored in transportation funding ($661,000) to its budget – but plans on warning families that free busing could possibly zoom off into the sunset.

For parents of the 540 students who rely on the big yellow bus to get to and from school, “that could come as a big shock,” warned trustee Rhoda Bress.

GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores added that those “540 families live mostly in our outlying or unincorporated areas, so it’s going to be a hardship.”

Being as the district still doesn’t have enough information from the state as to whether it will receive transportation funding next year, “we had to build it into the budget,” resolved Flores. “We couldn’t take it out.”

Trustee Rosso found this unsettling, noting, “540 kids is a lot of kids. And these are the ones that don’t have an alternative to walk to school.”

Joint city-schools sales tax: Trustees press on

No official vote was taken Thursday night, but trustees expressed unanimous support and agreement (save for trustees Fred Tovar and Pat Midtgaard, who were absent) to move forward with a one-half cent general sales tax measure, which would generate about $5.6 million annually for eight years. After receiving “exciting news” from San Francisco-based consulting firm TBWB Strategies, which initiated a telephone survey June 5 through June 11 of likely November 2012 Gilroy voters, trustees were encouraged to find that voters “strongly support a city sales tax for local schools.”

Board President Tom Bundros said he was surprised to find that unemployed people who were polled are one of two voter populations that showed the strongest support for the tax.

“I actually expected people that are employed as well to be equally supportive,” he mused. “Obviously they reap the benefits of the education. That was kind of interesting.”

The next steps are for the Board of Education to draft a formal resolution regarding the placement of a joint city-school sales tax on the November 2012 ballot. Important upcoming meetings include a joint city-school meeting July 17, followed by a regular school board meeting Aug. 2. The deadline for City Council to place the measure on the November 2012 ballot is Aug. 10.

An expanded story highlighting details and trustee comments on a possible sales tax measure will appear in Tuesday’s print edition. 

• GUSD is faced with losing $2.9 million or $8.1 million in state funding in the 2012-2013 school year. This is contingent on whether voters pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative in November 2012. However….
• Allan Garde, director of Fiscal Services for GUSD, warns, “we’re not sure if there are enough verified signatures for the tax initiative to even make the ballot.”
• Brown’s tax initiative would generate an estimated $8.5 billion through the budget year. It will temporarily increase the personal income tax on the state’s wealthiest taxpayers by up to 3 percent for seven years, and increase the sales tax by 0.25 percent for four years.
• GUSD has prepared for these cuts by increasing class size ratios and implementing 10 furlough days for teachers and management staff. These 10 furlough days equate to a 5 percent pay cut, and break down into 7 instructional days and three staff development days. If Brown’s tax initiative passes, GUSD will restore the 10 furlough days.

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