South City school officials pass deficit spending plan: District approves budget despite transparency concerns REBROADCAST FROM SMDJ AUSTIN WALSH

South San Francisco, CA   June 28, 2016

by Austin Walsh, San Mateo Daily Journal 


South San Francisco school officials authorized dipping into reserves to balance a spending plan projected to outpace revenue growth, despite concerns of teachers who claim the looming deficit is manufactured.

The South San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a $96.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year, which required drawing $7.5 million from the district’s rainy-day fund, according to an audio recording of the Thursday, June 23, meeting.

Officials claimed the projected spending deficit was due in part to increases in salary and benefit costs for personnel, while some employees questioned whether administrators were being adequately transparent in illustrating the way money is managed.

“There is a steady drumbeat of doom coming from the district, that we are in an atmosphere of want, when in fact we are enjoying an unparalleled moment in the last decade,” said teacher Danny Yanow.

Yanow, who teaches at Westborough Middle School, cited increased money for state schools authorized by the state Legislature, as well as contributions from Genentech and the Big Lift initiative spearheaded by San Mateo County, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the county Office of Education, as additional resources available for the district to draw from for educational support services.

“With all this external money arriving, relieving pressure on the general fund, we should feel gratitude and be engaged in cooperation and collaboration between students and administrators to leverage this financial moment to best uplift the education of our students,” he said. “But first we must lift this fog of poverty that the district’s recent confusing actions and statements have created.”

Superintendent Shawnterra Moore said in an email district officials are committed to addressing the frustrations expressed by staff.

“We will continue to reach out to our colleagues in an effort to have a dialogue about their concerns and we are committed to working with stakeholders as we continue to converse about the ways we can maintain a fiscally solvent budget in the coming years,” she said.

Yanow was not alone in his concerns, as teacher Bonnie Orendorff expressed a similar sentiment.

“How can this be possible that we have a looming deficit with all this money some place? So if you don’t know where your money is, and due to a lack of transparency neither do we, I’d recommend a fully independent outside auditing company to look at your books and find out where this money is being squirreled away,” said Orendorff, who teaches at Monte Verde Elementary School.

Under the spending authorized by the board, the district’s reserves should decrease to roughly $36 million this year, with the expected need to draw another $7 million next year.

Yanow called on the Board of Trustees to scrutinize the budget document authored by Assistant Superintendent Michael Krause, and address the concerns expressed by district personnel.

Krause though, in an exhaustive budget presentation, disputed the allegations that officials are being less than honest in the development of a spending plan.

“We wanted to make sure everything we do is as transparent as possible,” Krause said when presenting a budget book which he claimed was the largest and most comprehensive in the district’s history.

He said the district is hemorrhaging students, which has harmed the bottom line through a reduction of state money paid according to average daily attendance. The district is also spending more on personnel costs than years past, with an expected increase of benefits spending on the horizon.

The district’s funding model is based on revenue generated locally through property tax contributions, which is more than would be offered by the state if the district was funded through state allocations.

Krause said a deficit is projected again next year, but an opportunity for the district’s financial footing to improve exists through the potential to receive more property tax revenue from the county than is currently anticipated.

Ultimately, he said officials are interested in cutting back on spending in the coming years in an attempt to more closely align expenditures with expected income.

“As we move forward, we will continue monitoring that and look at reducing expenditures to keep in line with revenue expectations,” he said.

Board President Patrick Lucy said he appreciated the fiscal conservatism exercised by district officials in developing the budget and coming before the board warning of the projected disparity between revenue and spending.

“We get to plan versus react,” he said.

Moore shared a similar perspective, in acknowledging the value of having adequate time over coming years to fix the spending issues the district faces.

“While we are not facing immediate financial issues, it is important for us to plan for the future than be forced to react to a potential fiscal emergency,” she said.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105

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To read the District’s press releases on the 2016/17 budget CLICK HERE

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