DOWNEY - Consonant with the economic uncertainty of the times, the broad strokes of the 18-month budget draft presented Tuesday to the stakeholders of the Downey Unified School District amounted to an exercise in conditional propositions. It couldn't have been otherwise.The event: a special joint meeting of the DUSD board with the Personnel Commission, with all the department heads/other administrators, principals, PTA representatives, heads of unions, and others, in attendance, "to discuss the current status of the state fiscal crisis and its impact on the [district]." As if in answer to a deep pedagogical instinct, Superintendent Wendy Doty said at one point: "If we had more room, we could have invited the student council presidents, so they too will have an insight, according to their level of understanding, into the realities of the budget situation." The realities were delineated by "budget czar" Kevin Condon, assistant superintendent of business services: •Because of the state of the national economy (in recession since December 2007), and the disarray in the state budget, "we are in uncharted waters as we watch the legislature and the governor [yet] deal with changes to a budget that was enacted terribly late" and stands on shaky ground; •To cope with projected budget shortfalls, the state's compromise counterstrategy consists of new and/or increased taxes, increased borrowing, and reductions to all state-funded programs, especially education (resulting in crippling cuts in Prop. 98 funds, on which the district depends for 75 percent of its total funding, with the balance coming from federal, state [taxes, etc.], and local funds; loss of COLA for the foreseeable future; further reductions to categorical funding, etc.); •Much of the state budget is contingent upon success of the May 19 ballot measures (especially relevant to DUSD are Props. IA ("rainy-day" fund), IB ("additional $9.3 billion in maintenance factor amounts", and IC ("Lottery securitization bonds, to generate $5 billion"), none of which are assured of passage, which would then lead to more cuts in the May/June state revise; •The good news is that Tier III funds, already reduced as they are (such as those originally slated for Adult Education, CAHSEE Intervention Grants, Community-based English Tutoring, and the like) have been allowed to be allocated to other high priority programs; the bad news is that most of these monies have already been applied to said programs and therefore can't be touched anymore; •Assuming a "flat" student enrollment ("better than 'declining'"), already contracted per pupil ADA-based base revenue limit is subject to the ravages of inflation, necessitating dipping into district reserves (which have been realized because of prudent fiscal management by the district); these reserves, however, can "evaporate fast" if a further close monitoring of costs vs. resources is not done, especially with so many "ifs" haunting the state budget process with their huge impact on the district budget; it's not inconceivable that deficits can run up to a total of $9 million in FY2008-09, and subsequent huge deficits in FY2009-10, if nothing is done to trim the budget further; •As DUSD board member Don La Plante said, "We're beyond 'doing more with less', we're in [the slough of despond]." •Thus, managing budgets will be difficult, especially because, as was already mentioned, of uncertainty regarding future modifications to the state budget; "We will have the highest deficit factor in California history"; •Although we believe both the United States and California have bright futures in the intermediate and long-term, it will definitely be a struggle to hold on in the short term (2-3 years, even longer); What's to be done next? Said Condon: "Make any required adjustments for the June 30 budget adoption; continue to tightly control expenditures and identify additional savings opportunities via attrition, staffing vacancies, etc.; and continue to work on further budget reduction contingencies for 2010-11. We're sure of one thing-there's a lot of question marks here, a lot of uncertainty." "We're continually looking at how we can save, and where we can put the dollars we save where they can do the most good," said Doty. "The Adult School and the ROP Program have done a lot in this regard for the district. What we promise is we'll work as hard as we can to keep our programs going, with safety uppermost in our minds. We'll be reviewing the situation again in our June budget retreat." If……then.
********** Published: May 1, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 2