Balanced budget approved for GUSD

Board OKs $119 million; also votes to reinstate a full-time
librarian at high school
Gilroy – After three consecutive years of budget cuts, the Gilroy Unified School District board approved a balanced budget of $119 million. And, in a divided vote – reinstated a full–time librarian position at the high school.

While projected figures are in the black by at least $3 million, the district remains cautious about celebrating the numbers. Last year’s budget resulted in about a $300,000 deficit.

“We’re by no means out of the woods yet,” Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Steve Brinkman cautioned. “Enrollment has to come in where we projected.”

The three-year projection indicates a growth of about 150 students per year to the district, and includes a state mandated 3 percent reserve for emergencies.

The report accounts for May revisions made to Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger’s budget.

The 2005–06 budget is set for $119 million – $70 million of which is in the general fund for daily operations such as employee salaries. The leftover $49 million is restricted by the state and federal government purposes to fund special education, food services and programs benefiting poor and disadvantaged students.

“We haven’t made any significant reductions at all this time,” Brinkman said.

From 2002 to 2004, GUSD officials were forced to make cuts in personnel that included squeezing hours school nurses work, eliminating certificated positions, enforcing a hiring freeze and scaling back spending.

This year, the scenario is playing out a little differently.

The district is adding about 13 full-time positions and accounting for balanced budget for the next three years.

In a 6-to-1 vote Thursday, board members hired a full–time librarian position at the high school – who will serve as the district’s librarian – over a school safety coordinator.

“I can’t put anything above the safety of the students,” said board member David McRae who was the lone opposition voice. “It’s a difficult call – I’m hoping that we can catch some breaks and do both.”

A safety coordinator would provide GUSD employees with instruction on safe work practices, as well as develop student safety emergency procedures. The position is designed to reduce the number of worker’s compensation claims made against the district.

For the six other board members, the decision was came down to academics.

Because many school districts do not actually have specific safety coordinator positions, board member Rhoda Bress suggested additional research be conducted before an individual is hired at $90,000 per year.

“For me, the priority is academics,” she said. “I think you can tell a lot about a school district by its library.”

Another new position created is a Dean of Gilroy High School. This individual will be responsible for student discipline and maintaining the overall school climate.

According to Superintendent Edwin Diaz, the position is narrowly focused and was developed out of board study sessions with unanimous approval by members.

Attendance and the budget

Brinkman attributes much of the budget success to increased attendance in the district and a cost-of-living adjustment of 4.23 percent by the state.

“A 4.23 percent COLA is just more than we’ve expected,” he explained. Last year, the COLA was 2.41 and through January 2005, next year’s figure was projected at 3.93.

“(COLA) can get you healthy quickly,” Brinkman explained of the annual adjustment rate designed to offset cost increases by correcting for inflation.

The attendance rate for this past year in the district was 93.7 percent. Projections for the 2005–06 budget include an increase to 94.19 percent. Increasing attendance rates even half a percentage point provides the district with about $400,000.

Additional savings reflected in the 2005–06 budget are the result of restructuring in the district’s food and transportation services.

More than $2 million has been set aside for economic uncertainties, which is limited for emergency use only.

An unappropriated figure of more than $1.2 million remains. How that money is spent has yet be determined.

However, Brinkman insisted that for GUSD to remain in positive figures, the district must remain fiscally responsible with any surplus.

“We have the get the daily attendance rate – that’s crucial,” he said.

The bulk of books and supply expenditures come from restricted funds and amount to more than $4 million, Brinkman said. That figure represents about 3.3 percent of the total budget.

For the 2005–06 school year, the district anticipates spending an estimated $7,184.67 per pupil. According to Edsource, a non–profit education resource firm, the 2003–03 national average was $7,926.

While the state budget has yet to pass, GUSD’s 2005–06 budget already takes into account the 2 percent State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) spending. Should the governor’s proposal pass, the financial burden of the STRS spending would shift from the state onto the individual school districts.

If current STRS policy remains unchanged, GUSD would add $686,000 back to into its budget.

Unless the state budget deviates in extreme from the projections made by the district’s company, School Services of California, the figures in the 2005–06 budget should be close, district officials said.

“It’s the best news that we’ve seen in quite awhile,” said board member Jim Rogers, who has seen numerous budgets and budget revisions in his seven-year tenure on the GUSD board.

“When you do a three-year projection there’s an awful lot of optimism that could be offset by pessimism two years down the road,” he warned. “This is the best estimate with the material that we have now.”

Rogers felt that until the state budget is approved, the projections are not certainties.

“The interim in six months is going to be something to hang your hat on – this is you crossing your fingers,” he informed district officials. “Not that this isn’t realistic – it’s just not inclusive.”

GUSD expenditures

2005–06 General Fund Budget Expenditures:

Books and Supplies : 4 percent

Capital Outlay : 2 percent

Certificated Salaries : 50 percent

Classified Salaries : 13 percent

Employee Benefits : 20 percent

Other : 11 percent

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