Responses to Public Comment Questions March 10, 2021
March 12, 2021
Dear Loma Prieta Community:
At the board meeting on March 10, a long list of budgetary and curricular questions were submitted after the meeting had been in session for 45 minutes. This left insufficient time to review and fully answer those questions, although quite a few were addressed in the presentation of the Second Interim Report. The Board thought that the community would appreciate seeing those questions and the answers that have been provided to the submitters, identified only as firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Administration and Board are always happy to respond to questions from an interested public, but it’s helpful to have the questions ahead of time to allow for preparation and time during the meeting to address them. These answers could all have been easily incorporated into the board meeting had they been submitted ahead of time.
Questions and Answers:
Projected deficit question: There is a $620k projected deficit. Cathy explained $200k might be lost revenue due to being closed and lost revenue. What about the remaining $420k?
A deficit has been a matter of discussion since the 2020-21 year appeared in the multi-year projections, back in May of 2018. The deficit projected for 20-21 has grown since May 2018. This is primarily due to two things. First, except for property tax revenues, most of our other revenues are flat funded, while expenses continue to increase without adding services. And we have added programs and services since May 2018. Every change is documented in the budget reports that go to the Board, on the “incremental changes report.” In addition to the budget reports, the Board gets updated 3 times a year when they look at the comparative financial reports. The second most significant issue affecting this year’s deficit is the ongoing pandemic. Until COVID hit, we’ve had sufficient reserves to give us the time to prepare for budget cuts. Since March of 2020, we have been unable to collect transportation fees and contracts and Kids & Co fees, while still retaining most of those employees. The current projected deficit, at ($619K) in the 2nd Interim report, comes from:
-$172K in Kids & Co and Transportation Revenues (net of savings in hourly personnel, supplies and operating expenses) due to COVID closures
-$31K facilities rental due to COVID closures (in another fund, but the unrestricted general fund has to pick up more debt service cost)
- $67K LPEF shortfall from normal grant levels (340K reduced to 273K) due to COVID closures
- $83K spending restricted fund balances carried over from last year (because that’s the way state restricted funding works over multiple years)
-$30K one-time settlement agreements in special education
The remaining deficit could be considered our structural deficit. This deficit is in large part due to increasing salary, pension and special education costs that outpace the one revenue source that reliably increases – property taxes.
Eleven questions from a separate communication:
Why is the board not insisting on a balanced budget now for next year, with reserves projected to drop below 12% next year?
Because reductions are painful and take a lot of planning to see if the remaining staff can provide the level of services our community expects and deserves. Obviously, cuts would be even deeper now to keep the reserves at 12% in 21-22. We will have to make more cuts for 22-23. Fortunately, since we have a reserve significantly higher than the state requirement of 4%, we can spread the cuts over two years instead of one.
Can the board explain their own reasoning in maintaining current administrative levels and extra support staff while cutting classroom teachers and creating larger combo classes?
The Loma Prieta JUESD already has a very lean administrative team, with one superintendent, one principal, and a director of special education. The board believes a strong leadership team is key to ensuring our students, families and staff are well supported and all administrative functions are completed in accordance with federal, state and local laws and regulations. For example, we have a superintendent that also serves as our HR Director, Ed Tech Director, Director of Curriculum, and Director of Communication. If you look at other Santa Clara County school districts, you will see that each of these positions typically earns over $100k per year. In having the superintendent perform these duties, we are saving the cost of hiring for these positions separately. Further, the superintendent must also manage the traditional superintendent responsibilities, e.g., compliance with federal, state, and county laws and regulations, oversight of the various departments in the district, contract negotiations, overseeing the budget, and ensuring district-wide policies are up to date and followed. Our single principal covers both schools, whereas other schools in Santa Clara County have one principal per school, and sometimes also have one or more assistant or vice principals. The director of special education is also a key role, especially given the many requirements related to the support of students with special needs and the large part of our budget that is directed to special education services. Much of this information was provided previously at the regular board meeting on February 10.
Can the board explain why the deficit this year is so high, citing SPECIFIC cost overruns? Community members have asked about this before and have gotten no specific answers. Covid-related? Labor costs? But which ones specifically? Who have we hired that causes this cost overrun and why isn't that person/persons covered by covid relief funds? If they aren't covered by covid relief funds, why did we need them and why did we hire them in the midst of a fiscal crisis? What is it that adds up to over a $600,000 deficit?
There have not been any new positions funded in the last 12 months. Substitutes and independent contractors in direct support of students and distance learning have been engaged and they are charged to COVID relief funds if they are serving that purpose. See explanation on previous response for the current year’s deficit. And, this deficit is discussed and presented at least 8 times per year at Board meetings.
Can the board explain why the 6th grade self-contained program changes appeared, disappeared, and have now reappeared on the proposed list of budget cuts without discussion or explanation to the board?
Cathy explained that she mistakenly left off that line item in the February 24 Budget Study Session list, though the concept of the 6th grade self-contained program was part of the discussion.
Can the board explain why the superintendent's office claimed in February that the budget cut proposal lists presented to you were the same as in January, but were not (6th grade program changes had disappeared).
As for question 4, Cathy explained that she mistakenly left off that line item in the February 24 Budget Study Session list.
Can the board explain how changing the 6th grade program saves $12,000 without any change in FTE (as referenced in the table presented tonight in the 2nd interim report - p35)?
This has to do with the master schedule being worked out for CTE, given that we are cutting 1.4 FTE from the teaching staff. Cathy has noted previously that ALL of these savings due to reductions in programs and services are ESTIMATES. Once layoffs of specific personnel occur, she can work through the savings for 21-22, based on the salaries and benefits of the remaining personnel.
Can the board explain why the supposed savings related to 6th grade program shifts have changed from $32,000 in January to $12,000 now?
So, Cathy could keep the $32,000 savings when we cut in two electives for 6th grade, and add another line for keeping Spanish with a cost $20,000 (net to $12,000).
Can the board explain how it can justify eliminating 6th grade subject-specific instruction at a savings of only $12,000, while maintaining only a 1% reduction in the admin salaries, maintaining extra "youth leaders," etc?
Recommendations for prioritization of budget reductions were part of a year-long process with the Budget Advisory Committee. The BAC has wide representation on it, including a board member who has sat in on every meeting, teachers, parents, labor group representatives, and other community members. These recommendations were presented to and discussed with the Board at numerous board meetings, and the Board supports the recommendations of the BAC. Further, the loss of a “youth leader” was included in the list of planned budget reductions.
Can the board let us know now what the anticipated class sizes will be at Loma and what grades will have combo classes?
The master schedule process is not completed at this time. Estimating grade level enrollment has been complicated by distance learning.
Can the board let us know what percent of the cost of education will be on classroom instruction after these proposed cuts? Where will we be relative to the 60% requirement?
Cathy will know the answer to this in May when the 21-22 detailed budget is prepared. We will still be below the 60% requirement.
If the board cannot answer any of these basic questions, can you explain why you are comfortable approving the 2nd interim report and the proposed budget cuts without this information?
Because the purpose of the Second Interim Report is to show our financial projections for this year and the next two years. This report reflects accurately our situation, and since we expect to be above the 4% reserve level required by the state, we consequently have a positive certification. For these reasons and since all of the Board’s questions from the February budget study session had been addressed, the Board was able to vote to approve the Second Interim Report with confidence.
Deana A. Arnold
Board of Trustees
Loma Prieta Joint Union School District