District must get finances in order


Cartoon by Vivian Geilim


Ben Dahan news editor
When you go to the cafeteria or the student store, if you don’t have money in your account or cash on hand, with few exceptions, then you’re not buying anything. The principle here is simple but universal: if you can’t pay for something, you don’t get to have it. This principle applies to school districts, too. But we’re not talking about pizzas and spirit packs; millions of taxpayer money and the education of thousands of students are at stake.
Last year, the district spent $1,317,580 more than it took in. The adopted budget for 2017-18, which is an estimation of the actual figures, has a deficit of $3,349,318. Nearly one million dollars of the deficit would dip into the district’s special reserve fund, Fund 17. While this is not yet at break-the-bank severity, the long term economic health of the district is in jeopardy. Last year, district administration identified that up to $5 million dollars in cuts would be necessary to keep fiscal solvency, but less than $2 million was actually made, shifting the burden to this and future years.
This can not go on indefinitely. There will be a point when the state government intervenes and possibly takes over, unless we do something about it soon. The district needs to correct its bottom-line and balance its budget through a combination of increasing efficiency, cutting expenditure and raising revenue.
These changes will affect all of us: students, teachers, administrators, parents and city residents. That $3 million difference, or whatever it comes out to be, doesn’t come out of thin air. It will have consequences, despite attempts to minimize the damage to classrooms, on the services provided and the education received, potentially leading to higher class sizes, fewer teacher and staff positions, reconfiguration of the K-8 school sites or the postponement of future initiatives. So this needs to be a community effort.
This means that the district needs to be transparent, the school board needs to be open minded, administrators need to look to creative and out-of-the-box solutions, teachers and staff need to be mindful of the financial bind the district is in, and students and parents need to understand that long-term fiscal solvency is just as important as short-term benefits in terms of the education they receive.
There are encouraging signs. The district has acknowledged the position it is in and has taken steps to correct its course. A team of community stakeholders called Future Focused Schools has been established to evaluate options of reconfiguring the K-8 schools to optimize fiscal and educational efficiency. Discussion is crucial, but unless this talk is followed up by meaningful action, the district is back where it started.
“Business as usual” is veering us towards a fiscal cliff. The bottom line is that we as a community need to come together and solve this burden on our district’s future and our students’ education.