High school district continues budget cuts
No teachers cut, but open positions remain vacant in 2012-13
The finances of both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools remain steady, even as the district continues to pare back its budget in response to cuts handed down from above and rising health care costs, according to the district's head of business services.
For the fourth consecutive year, the board of trustees for the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District has voted to make cuts to its annual budget, said Joe White, assistant superintendent of business services. But, White added, in spite of those reductions, no teachers will be laid off and no classes or core programs will be eliminated.
White projects that the district will take in revenues of about $52.85 million and spend a total of $49.4 million, leaving the district in the black by summer 2013.
Most of the cuts in the budget were made by not filling vacant positions and reducing the hours worked by some administrative and service employees, White said. For example, an open position in the district office will not be filled. The same goes for an open case manager's position and two open teaching positions at each high school. Those positions would have cost the district more than $100,000 each for a year.
"I'm not happy with all the reductions that we've continued to make," White said, "but under the current environment, I feel the district is in a financially sound place."
At its June 18 meeting the district board unanimously approved budget cuts of about $826,000 in the 2012-13 school year. That is down from cuts made in recent years — $1.2 million in 2009-10; $2.8 million in 2010-11; and $1.9 million in 2011-12.
Over the course of the past three years, some of those cuts have been reversed, White said. From 2009 through 2012 the district has reduced spending by $3.3 million.
The 2012-13 school year will mark the third consecutive year in which the school district expects to end the year with a 4 percent "economic uncertainty reserve" — 4 percent of the entire budget set aside in case of emergency. The law requires that the district set aside only 3 percent, but White said MVLA has historically set aside 5 percent as a matter of policy. It hasn't been economically viable to do so recently, he said.
White said the district also aims to save money by keeping all 2012-13 salaries at 2011-12 levels, adjusting for what is known as "step and column" — or guaranteed bumps in pay, which are automatically instituted when teachers reach a predetermined level of seniority or obtain a certain number of continuing education credits.
In addition to passing a budget, the board also approved a "multi-year projection" — two tentative budgets for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. While both budgets project growth in revenues, they also anticipate even greater growth in spending, White said. That's because the rise in student enrollment is expected to outpace the anticipated economic recovery. District enrollment is expected to remain flat this year at 3,678 students, but is projected to rise significantly over the next 10 years.
"Revenues are going up," White said, noting that the district has been receiving money from the special Shoreline District, property taxes are increasing (albeit modestly) and the MVLA High School Foundation contribution of $1.2 million set a record last year. But, he added, "We have not turned the corner."
Moving forward, White said, the biggest challenge for the district will be to continue cost-cutting measures without laying anyone off. Personnel account for 86 percent of the district's budget, and health care costs for all employees are constantly rising. From 2012-13 to 2013-14, health care costs rose by about $400,000, he said.
In order to avoid layoffs, White said, the district will have to continue leaving positions open as they are vacated, consolidating responsibility or cutting back on non-core programming. Additionally, he said the schools will continue to look to the community for support.
The MVLA High School Foundation is determined to match last year's record amount of funds raised, White said, and he is hopeful it will reach its goal. "The foundation supports so much of the high schools' programming," he said. "Every dime they give us is huge."