ATASCADERO — According to Superintendent of Business Services Jackie Martin, the Atascadero Unified School District has one more year of solvency before budget cuts from Sacramento push it into the red — but only if all goes perfectly in the state capital.
“This budget does not support that worst-case scenario if the tax initiative fails,” Martin said at a budget workshop on Tuesday. “It does show that we will not be able to meet our minimum reserve.”
The issue is the same one it’s been for years: the vast majority of any school district’s money comes from the state. Schools are allotted a certain amount of money per student per day that student attends school, also known as average daily attendance.
California state law says that AUSD should receive $6,513.46 per ADA. AUSD had 4,904 students for the 2011-12 school year but they didn’t all attend school every single day. So AUSD’s ADA is 4,681. Simple arithmetic tells us that AUSD should receive a total of $30.5 million from the state.
Unfortunately, however, thanks to the state itself being broke, AUSD only received $5,171.56 per ADA this year — about 79 percent of what’s due. Over the year, it’s the difference of $6.3 million.
And, Martin added, AUSD is currently finishing its sixth year with such shortages.
So things are grim, and could get grimmer. If Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax proposal doesn’t pass, AUSD looks to lose an additional $441 per ADA — more than $2 million, or the equivalent of paying all employees for 15 school days.
Martin said that every day of school costs the district about $135,000. Fifteen days at that price tag come out to just over $2 million.
So it looks like closing the doors is exactly what will happen if the budget doesn’t pass.
“The teachers are going to take the hit,” Trustee Ray Buban said. “We’ll have to close the schools for lack of money.”
“Anyone who takes a furlough day is taking a pay cut,” board president Corinne Kuhnle said. “You’re not getting paid for it.”
“We’re at a point that there just flat out isn’t anything else we can get rid of,” Martin said. “The classrooms are full, we’ve already cut our utility bills, we’ve already done everything that we can do other than close the doors.”
It’s true. Positions are not being filled as they are vacated. More and more grades are being blended into one classroom. At least two principals are in charge of two schools each. Libraries aren’t open enough. Software isn’t being updated. New textbooks aren’t being purchased.
All the while, Martin said, the cost of doing business goes up. Gas and diesel cost more. Paper costs more. In better financial times, that’s covered by a cost of living adjustment — an acknowledgement by the state that costs go up so revenue needs to go up. But it hasn’t gone up in years.
“It’s supposed to be able to cover your costs of doing business because the cost of doing business goes up,” Martin said. “In theory, when you cover all your additional costs — insurance, fuel, etc. — things just cost more. But we haven’t been getting COLA since probably 2007-08. And we’ve been getting deficited.”
And there’s more.
“If that initiative fails and we’re not able to negotiate by the end of January , then I have to file negative,” Martin said.
Negotiating means working with the teachers’ union for a pay cut, which seems to be about the very last place the district can save any money at all. And, as Buban said, it’s the teachers who take the hit.
“Once we file negative, the county would come in and start working with us,” Martin said. “What saddens me is that’s expensive and will cost us money when we know what we need to do.”
“I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” board member George Galvan said.
Assistant superintendent Kathy Hannemann said that thanks to the budget being what it’s been for six years and with no end in sight, in addition to closing the schools, curriculum will start getting slashed to just the core subjects, with sports and extracurricular activities simply going away.
“Our books are literally falling apart,” Hannemann said.
There may be a few short-term solutions. Galvan suggested selling bricks and naming buildings after community members who make donations to the schools.
The only long-term solution — if there is one — is for the community to voice its displeasure with the California legislature, Kuhnle said. Should everything go well and the 2012-13 budget come in as hoped, Martin said that the district will use the rest of its reserves and go into the negative for the 2013-14 year instead.
“This is a state issue,” Martin said. “Our funding is at the mercy of the state legislators.”
A full list of North County’s representatives in the California legislation can be found on page A4.