Beach schools face tough choices as funds drop $675,000


PENINSULA - The Ocean Beach School District Board has been whacking away at its 2009-10 budget for weeks, assuming a "worst-case scenario," Superintendent Rainer Houser said last week.

The board was originally working with a cut of $775,000. Now that the state Legislature has completed its budget work, the "worst case" won't be as bad as initially thought, he said, and the district has received "preliminary budget allocations from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction which reflect cuts of about $675,000, still significant in its impact on personnel and programs." The final budget recommendations will be presented to the board for passage on June 22.

Houser noted in a summary of the cuts that, since personnel make up more than 80 percent of the budget, that's where major cuts were made.

"Certified (teaching) positions which were eliminated include the alternative school and a district-wide counseling position," he said. "The decision was made to retain direct classroom teaching positions over those with more limited student contact, even though they made an important contribution."

He said one, and possibly two, vacant teaching positions will not be filled and, while no basic education classroom teachers "are currently non-renewed, several were cut from full-time to part-time, thus saving teaching jobs and retaining reasonable class size." And, he said, classified (support) positions were reduced in most areas including clerical, custodial and district office.

"Salaries and professional development funds for administrators will be frozen and all certified staff won't receive a cost-of-living increase for the next two years," he said, "along with a one-day reduction in pay. Clerical paraprofessional and custodial staff will also be impacted by a wage freeze."

Besides those cuts, Houser said numerous cuts were made in office expenses, supplies and materials, extracurricular transportation and routing efficiencies, coaching salary reductions and an increase in contributions from student ASB accounts "to help subsidize student activities so they won't be eliminated."

The district will also face added costs to the 2009-10 budget, Houser said, "because of either existing employee contract requirements, economic necessity or academic requirements." Those include funding negotiated contract obligations for certificated and classified unions, a math textbook adoption reflecting required new state math standards "and an inevitable increase in utilities, insurance, service contract costs and other required maintenance of buildings."

Challenges ahead

Houser said the district "will continue to engage in challenges each year in creating a balanced budget and next year will be as difficult, if not more so, than this year, since the state allocations to the district were artifically bolstered by federal stimulus funds."

Declining enrollment since 1997 also poses challenges.

"We've lost more than 400 students since then," he said. Current enrollment is 885 students, each costing the district more than $5,000. He said enrollment should stabilize in the next couple of years, "with average grade enrollment between 65 and 75. Inadequate state funding further contributes to every district's budget problems. Until that is resolved by the Legislature, budget woes will continue."

On the positive side, Houser said "the budget preserved most jobs, especially those linked directly to classroom instruction, and it retains the activities our students engage in and grow from. I believe we have achieved a great level of collaboration, evaluation of services, created greater efficiencies and a common vision of minimizing the impact of a deficit on our children."

Houser thanked the board, administrators, employees and the community who offered suggestions. "We are in difficult economic times," he said, "but by working together, we are meeting the challenge and proposing a lean but workable 2009-10 budget."

A complete copy of the proposed budget is available at the district office.

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