Divide schools face $800k deficit

By From page A1 | December 26, 2011

The Black Oak Mine Unified School District board is facing a deficit, it learned at its Dec. 8 meeting.

The shortfall was highlighted in a PowerPoint presentation by newly hired Chief Fiscal Officer Peter Rosenberry.

For the 2010-11 fiscal year, actual expenses exceeded the district’s actual revenues by nearly $800,000 and, if left unchecked, that deficit is projected by 2014 to balloon to over $2.1 million, according to Rosenberry’s calculations.

“We are currently in a qualified status,” said Rosenberry. “A qualified status means we may not be able to meet our financial obligations two years out.”

Should no action be taken, the district may be forced to declare a negative status, meaning that the district could not meet its financial obligations. This status could instigate a state Department of Education takeover, creating a loss of local control over the entire district, from the administration, to the board, to the community.

“A negative status is a looming possibility based on past trends at BOMUSD, but is one which we can avoid if we take swift, decisive action now,” said Rosenberry.

“As in the case of King City HSD in Monterey County, when the state comes in, there is no authority of the board; they send in a state administrator,” said Superintendent Robert Williams.

Currently, salaries and benefits account for 93 percent of the district’s total expenditures. Only 2 percent goes to books and supplies and another 5 percent for services and other needs.

With the BOMUSD losing up to 60 students just this year alone, and the current economic state of California, funding losses to the district are creating a downward spiral, both in declining enrollment and decreased and delayed funding.

“Most people in school finance will tell you that this is the absolute worst year we’ve ever had,” said Rosenberry. “If we do nothing, we will be at a $2.1 million deficit by 2014. We can only react to what the state chooses to give us. Our state is currently not paying us what is owed per student, nor do they provide us money on time. Deferred payments can create a huge cash flow deficit problem for us.”

According to Rosenberry and Williams, the reason BOMUSD is in this predicament is multifaceted but includes declining enrollment, a history of deficit spending, and class sizes smaller than average.

Williams strongly favors restructuring both Georgetown and Northside middle schools at a single site as one means to help the district’s solvency. His recommendation to the board was to relocate to Golden Sierra High School’s lower campus.

Williams’ reasoning is ┬áthat middle school students would have access to high school and advance placement courses, and staff from the high school could be shared.

“Our balance is between providing positive program opportunities and making prudent financial decisions,” said Williams. Unfortunately, one thing that will need to be done is raising class sizes.

“We have kept our class sizes very low,” said Drew Woodall, director of educational services for the district.

“If we continue ignoring our situation, we will run out of savings and have to borrow money to make payroll,” Williams added. “This is a situation of dire importance for the district.

“Regardless of the plans for the seventh and eighth grade classes, an exemplary program has been created ┬áno matter where the students end up,” he said, adding that tightening the master schedule at the high school so that every class had a minimum of 28 students also would help the district’s financial situation.

“We have the opportunity of creating a new school,” said Woodall, who was part of a district team that visited two other restructured middle school sites in California this year. And while polls say that 60 percent of voters are currently in favor of supporting a state ballot initiative giving $7 billion in taxes to aid desperate schools, “We can’t depend on it,” he added.

The board used the Dec. 8 meeting as its organizational meeting for the coming year. The new board president is Steve DePue, elected to the board in 2008. The next board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2012, at the district office off Wentworth Springs Road.

Rebecca Murphy

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