DUSD's fiscal outlook is gloomy

DOWNEY - It looks like things at the Downey Unified School District will get worse before they get better.Just to take fiscal year 2004-05 as a starting point, district funding per pupil that year was $4,931. Then it rose to $5,097 in 2005-06, to $5,537 in 2006-07, peaking at $5,789 in 2007-08: these were the good years. Then with the effect of the recession setting in: funding per pupil dropped to $5,638 last year (2008-09), and this year dropped even further, to $4,955-just about reverting to the same level of funding it started with five years ago. Viewed another way, this year's budget of $172 million declined from $180 million two years ago. Or, reflecting the decline in funding per pupil, the base revenue limit per ADA (average daily attendance) this year took a 12.1 percent negative plunge, as compared to positive, however slight, in previous years. In the meantime, while everybody was banking on those aforementioned 'prosperous' years to continue forever, salaries and costs increased, various programs and other services were either maintained or expanded. Came the time of reckoning when the recession hit hard, and painful cost-cutting measures pervaded the district culture. The mantra was save, save, save: save on energy, save on supplies, save whenever and wherever applicable. "We didn't count on this recession to be this deep, and this long," said Kevin Condon, assistant superintendent of business services. Indeed, budget figures show that the district has this year been operating on a $5.5 million deficit. An ingenious way to offset this (other districts have had to lay off hundreds of teachers and other personnel; the district hasn't) was to offer an early retirement option to retirable personnel, both certificated and classified. At the same time, most of these same teachers who chose to retire mid-year (c. January) were given the opportunity to return as substitute teachers (with 'emeritus' status), to teach until the end of June. This has meant a savings to the district of $820,000. To prevent teacher layoffs, shifting of funds from categorical programs (where this was allowed) was resorted to. Some $4.5 million was transferred this way. The district also applied federal stimulus money to save not only positions but to fund mandatory programs such as special education programs and transportation (busing) expenses. "Even with all this, which meant a savings of some $14 million," said Condon, "we still operated with a deficit." The impact of the teacher retirements will of course be felt next fiscal year, in increased class sizes and savings in salaries. Savings of $500,000 and $2.3 million are anticipated from these measures. The state's May 14 Budget Revise, further eliminating about $2 billion from education, merely exacerbated the situation. Instead of a hoped for slight increase in the funding level, school districts across the state were advised to base their budgets for the next 3-4 years on a flat revenue plateau, which means about $4,943 per pupil at DUSD. Thus for the next few years, DUSD's budget calculations will begin with the above figure. Of course the budget is subject to periodic review (in the December and March interim reports). It is hoped against hope that some positive developments may transpire in the meantime in future state budgets. How to approach and meet this depressing prospect will be discussed in the June 8 DUSD meeting. Meanwhile, it's clear that 1) the district can expect a more serious bout of general belt-tightening; 2) alternative strategies and measures have to be found; and 3) future scenarios are likely to be painful.

********** Published: May 28, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 6