As employee health benefits and salaries continue to rapidly increase, many school districts within the state of California desperately struggle to create a balanced budget by June 30 that will cover the next three fiscal years, as mandated by law.
The Fontana Unified School District (FUSD) is no stranger to these worries, as the projections for years to come are expected to only get worse.
During the year of 2011, FUSD faced drastic budget cuts due to lack of state funding, and were expected to save $25 million by the following year. These budget cuts included a reduction of the College Career Center and Adult Education, layoffs of 26 Librarian Specialists, and the removing of the district’s counselor program. The FUSD was forced to the layoff teachers, employees, and management positions in the hundreds.
FUSD board member, Matt Slowik, expressed his concerns for the district’s budget problems by providing projections of his own that indicate a looming deficit in the millions as early as this 2017-18 fiscal year.
Superintendent Randal S. Bassett presented his team’s 2017-18 through 2020-21 budget proposal for approval by the district’s board of education members at their monthly meeting in June.
The proposal was unanimously approved by the board. It proved that the FUSD could be in compliance with new legislative regulations with their projections, by the mandated June 15 deadline.
The 2017-18 fiscal year included a one-time Discretionary Fund offered by the state, of approximately $876 million. Funds like this may not be offered in subsequent years to come.
Bethany Figueroa, Executive Director of Physical Services, explains that the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) income projections are expected to increase due to learner’s needs within the district, even though, “student enrollment levels have been steadily decreasing each year.”
Although the decline in enrollments is causing a large reduction in revenue calculations, Figueroa is confident the district is scheduled to be in compliance with the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) by the year 2020-2021.
The LCFF formula is used to allocate state funding in accordance to a district’s needs associated with the demographics they serve: low-income students, English learners, foster youths and any other students who are at a disadvantage.
Bassett fears that drastic increases in the State Retirement System employer costs places all school district budgets at risk.
“Without an increase to education funding in California and/or a redesign of the retirement systems, virtually every district, including Fontana, will be faced with the challenge of making drastic reductions,” remarks Bassett.
This could mean employee layoffs and cutbacks in areas that will ultimately have an impact on students’ learning environments.
According to both Bassett and Slowick, if FUSD continues to struggle with employees’ State Retirement System benefits, such as CalSTRS for teachers and CalPERS for support staff, then these costs will not only put the FUSD district’s budget at risk of failing, but many other districts may fail as well, and this can all lead to dire consequences.
Although Slowick hopes the district’s budget will be enough to “cover our increases in expenditures that are coming down the road,” he sees the deficit problem as becoming increasingly problematic.
By the 2022-23 fiscal year, Slowick projects the district’s general funds to be negative by at least 52 million.
Certified Employees represents certified teaching staff, while Classified Employees represents all other employees.
He is concerned that if the superintendent, combined with the school board members, are not capable of pulling themselves out from the red, then the state will be forced to take over the district entirely.
Bassett proclaims the greatest costs for the district are the employee expenditures, such as salaries and benefits.
Over the past four years, there has been an overall salary increase in the excess of 15 percent, and he fears this trend will continue to increase quickly in the upcoming years.
Associated with apprehensions of the raising salaries are also the worries of not having enough money for the increasing retirement and health benefit costs for all employees who work within the FUSD, both certified and non-certified employees.
Because of these increases associated with employee costs, continued pressure will be placed on all school districts to meet these expectations without adequate state funding to compensate the balance.
One teacher who prefers to remain anonymous to readers feels too much of the district’s money is spent on unnecessary managemental positions. School staff members often feel micromanaged with, “lots of mini chiefs to run programs,” and money should be allocated elsewhere for the benefit of the students.
Bassett’s response to such accusations is that management salaries only account for four and a half percent of the general fund budget expenditures, and most people have misconceptions of how FUSD money is allocated.
The pie chart is an example of how district funds are spent. Certified Non-Man represents certified teaching staff, while Classified Non-Man represents all other employees.
Despite ongoing warnings from Slowick that the district faces “real issues” with their budget, FUSD board members continues with a special election scheduled for November 7, 2017, to elect a new board member after Jesse Armendarez left with only one year left in his term.
The only two candidates who are now competing for the vacant seat are Mars Serna and Kareem Gongora.
Although no specific dollar amount has been given for the cost of the election, board member, Slowik, estimates the process to cost approximately $220,000 which will come out of the 2017-18 budget; money he claims, “could have been divided among the 45 schools within the district to help with classroom shortages.”
Regardless of the worries for the FUSD budget, there are shared hopes by all interviewed that the district will prevail.