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High School District Approves Final Budget

Trustees ok a spending plan that uses cuts and furloughs to trim the deficit.

The Sequoia Union High School District officially approved a budget for the upcoming school year, bringing an end to a process which included jobs cuts, work furloughs and months of discussion.

District Trustees Alan Sarver, Chris Thomsen and Don Gibson unanimously approved the proposed budget during the board meeting Wednesday night, while President Lorraine Rumley and Trustee Olivia Martinez were absent.

The approved budget trims $5 million from the structural deficit with which the district leadership is attempting to cope. Yet after approving the elimination of 33 positions and implementing two furlough days, along with other budget balancing measures, the district still needs to cut $4 million next year, according to a district report.

According to Assistant Superintendent Enrique Navas, much of the high school district's financial difficulty stems from the inability of legislators in Sacramento to approve a state budget.

The state budget proposed by Governor Jerry Brown recommends sparing public k-12 grade education funding by preserving taxes that are set to expire at the end of June,  such as a sales tax and an increase in vehicle license fees.  These would be passed along to voters for approval if he had his way. But conservative lawmakers have consistently rejected Gov. Brown's proposal. This has gridlocked the budget process, making it difficult for local jurisdictions that are dependent on state funding to approve spending plans.

Navas said the district expects to see a reduction of $349 per student in the money it receives from the state. He characterized this projection as "conservative," but under a worst case scenario, those cuts could be more than $800 per student.

Sequoia Union High School District leaders are also expecting the district to suffer reductions in state funding to the tune of $2.8 million in "fair share" money next year, according to Navas.  Fair share districts are ones that receive a majority of their funding from local property tax revenues, as the Sequoia Union High School District does.  But Trustees say without exact numbers, it's challenging to plan for the future.

"We are uncertain whether more cuts are coming," said Navas, of the state's actions.

Trustee Gibson indicated that the district would likely be forced to implement further personnel cuts in the future to balance the budget.  The district eliminated 33 jobs last month, which shaved $1.91 million from the district's deficit.

"Next year we are cutting $4 million," Gibson said.

"$4 million. That is the equivalent to 40 teachers. 10 per campus; I'd suggest we start negotiating as soon as possible, because I don't think we can survive losing that much on our campuses," Gibson added.

Trustees approved at the June 8 meeting. No teachers represented by the Sequoia District Teachers Association lost their job due to cuts in the most recently approved contract.

The contract did implement two work furlough days for district teachers. The furglough days, which will be August 22, 2011, and January 9, 2012, will be unpaid. Classes will not be in session either day due to previously scheduled breaks.

Thomsen said he agreed with Gibson, and said contract negotiations with the district's unions should begin soon. He also remarked that though the high school district's budget outlook seems bleak, it finds itself in better financial footing than some similar surrounding districts.

Wednesday's board meeting was the last for the 2010-2011 school year. Trustees and district administration will meet again after the summer.

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