School district's budget still impaired but better than it might have been

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comDecember 27, 2012 

The Los Banos Unified School District knew in February that the state deficit was going to result in financial troubles for education.

"The challenge right now is the landscape in front of us is foggy," Superintendent Steve Tietjen said at a Feb. 17 meeting. "We've had 39 percent of our money deferred every year, (now) only 20 percent will be deferred. That's good news."

The bad news was that Gov. Jerry Brown was planning to take away $370 in average daily attendance. The proposed number grew to $451 in ADA as the year went on.

During much of 2012 the outlook was not good for the district.

The Los Banos Unified School District's $4.5 million monthly payroll led to taking out numerous loans as 2012 approached because the state repeatedly deferred funding. Another hit, according to Tietjen, would have eventually led to layoffs and program cuts.

During the spring the teachers' and classified unions agreed to five furlough days to combat the issue. The furlough days would increase to 10 if at least one of the education-related propositions planned for the November ballot did not pass.

"It's a great help to the district. I'm grateful that we have such willingness on the part of our bargaining units," Tietjen said after the deal was struck. "To put it in dollars, we're anticipating a $3.5 million cut, this saves the district $2.4 million."

By the fall two education-related propositions had made the ballot. Proposition 30, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would increase sales tax by a penny for every $4 spent for the next four years and increase income tax on Californians making more than $250,000 for seven years.

Proposition 38, backed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, would increase the personal income tax on nearly all Californians for 12 years.

Tietjen favored Proposition 30 because it eliminated the $451 ADA reduction, which translates to $4.2 million for the Los Banos school district. It also decreased deferrals to the district from 40 percent to 20 percent.

Tietjen said Proposition 38 keeps the ADA reduction in place and allow the governor to withhold funding to solve budget issues.

Although Proposition 38 failed on Election Day, Proposition 30 passed by a 53.9 percent to 46.1 percent margin.

The district still faces steep financial challenges heading into 2013, but Tietjen and his staff are grateful that things are not worse.

"We are excited to see the response of the citizens of California and, within that, Merced County. This is a great sign that citizens recognize the importance of supporting education," Tietjen said.

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