Budget woes, program cuts, and a squabble over class size for kindergarten were the order of the night at the Walnut Valley Unified Board of Education meeting Wednesday.
In a meeting that lasted almost three and a half hours, the trustees picked new officers and voted 4-0 to approve a report citing that the district will not likely meet its financial obligations this fiscal year and in 2012-13, among other actions.
Outgoing Board President Larry Redinger was absent.
Colleen Patterson, interim assistant superintendent of business services, did a presentation on the district’s first interim budget report, which is due to the Los Angeles County Office of Education by Dec. 15. The district plans to file what is called a negative certification, citing that it will be unable to meet it financial obligations for this year and next.
“This is the first time ever for Walnut Valley and it’s sad,” she said. “You’ve hit your own personal fiscal cliff.”
Patterson said the district is deficit spending at about $5 million for the current fiscal year and is projected to spend more than it gets in the two subsequent years.
She pointed to deferred money totaling $22.2 million this year alone that the state owes the district as one of the chief reasons the district is fiscally in the hole. The state will owe the district $66 million in IOUs in the next three years, she said.
Also an issue was anticipated revenue from the potential sale of Site D that didn’t materialize, she said.
The passage of Proposition 30, a ballot measure to raise funds education, means the district won't lose any more money, but it won't get any more either, officials said.
Superintendent Dean Conklin said that the $22 million in expected funds from the state is what has set the district back financially, and now is the time for action.
Because 90 percent of the budget is personnel costs, Conklin said his plan for savings would include six furlough days for all employees this year, and nine for the next two years. That would save the district around $10 million, he said.
Also included in his proposed plan would be to not fill vacant positions, offer a retirement incentive again this year, increase revenue by leasing out property, and continue to try to attract students from outside the district.
“This is not a case of hidden money,” he said. “We all have a financial challenge.”
Marlene Dunn, a representative with the County Office of Education, said that a key issue the district has is how it deals with its ongoing expenditures, not just employee costs.
She added that it would “likely be impossible” to reduce expenditures without touching teacher salaries and benefits because it is such a large portion of the Walnut Valley Unified's budget.
Larry Taylor, president of the Walnut Valley Educators' Association, said district administration needs to work more collaboratively with the teachers than it has in recent negotiations.
“We have not said we are not going to take any furlough days,” he said. “We said ‘let’s sit down and see a plan.’ You have to involve the stakeholders in the plan. We are all here to make this district fiscally responsible, to make sure that the check doesn’t bounce.”
Margarita Gutierrez, president of the California School Employees Association, Walnut Chapter 446, said her group has made suggestions for things that can be cut, but their ideas have been dismissed as “bake sale items.”
Gutierrez and others called for the district to form a budget committee.
“It is easy for the district to act like classified employees are disposable,” she said…"Classified employees have been there for the district. It takes people, employees to make valuable programs successful.”
Several speakers voiced concerns about the district’s move last month to cut its We Care program, which provided daycare mainly for district employees.
On Nov. 7, the board voted 5-0 to layoff child development aides, the child development center supervisor, and the child development assistant that run the program.
The elimination of We Care, which mainly provides childcare to babies from six weeks to two-years-old for district employees, is expected to save Walnut Valley Unified around $200,000 annually, official said.
Others lamented the increase in the number of students in kindergarten classes from a maximum of 22 to 27 at the start of this school year.
The district, faced with a higher number of kindergarteners, added them to classes. The association representing the teachers in the district objected to the increase in students when their contract capped the number at 22 and has filed a grievance.
Walnut Valley Unified plans to add four additional kindergarten classes after winter break to accommodate the influx of students, Conklin said.
Terri Applebaum, mother of a kindergartener at Maple Hill Elementary and a teacher, said she objects to students being moved in the middle of the school year after the new classes get added. That should have been done before school started so they wouldn’t lose continuity, she said.
Conklin said the district and the board didn’t want to move students either but couldn’t negotiate with new teacher’s association leadership until after the school year began to get a plan in place.
In a separate action, the board voted 4-0 to approve 3.26 percent reduction in salary for classified and certificated management employees for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.