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July 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, July 02, 2004

High schools in good shape High schools in good shape (July 02, 2004)

Increased revenues in local property taxes pads bottom line

By Julie O'Shea

Following a year of economic upheaval at the state level, the Mountain View-Los Altos high school district's bank account is on the rise again and is estimated to top $37 million by 2006-2007, early figures released last month show.

The school board approved a $34.6-million operating budget for the new fiscal year, which began July 1. This is nearly a $2-million leap from last year, due in part to a 4.5-percent growth in property taxes, which makes up 84 percent of the district's revenue.

There were no layoffs this years, another sign that the district has started to regain its footing. Thirty-eight district employees were laid off last year. But the district's enrollment shows a slight increase of 130 students for this fall.

"I think we are feeling very confident," school board President Judy Hannemann said, adding trustees think the district has been fiscally responsible.

Finance chief Joe White estimated the district will see a steady increase of funds, starting in the 2005-2006 school year with $35.9 million and growing to $37.3 million the following year.

However, cuts implemented last year -- $70,286 for substitute teachers and $69,400 in overtime pay, among other things -- remain intact going into 2004-2005. And health care benefits are on the rise. Costs for Kaiser, for example, are expected to go up 20 percent.

Personnel salaries and benefits make up 86 percent of the district's expenditures, which total $34.5 million.

Hannemann said the school board tried to keep the cuts away from the classrooms as much as possible, although ultimately any cut will at least impact the students indirectly.

White, in a letter to board trustees, warned, "Although the state's budget crisis appears to be lessening, there is still significant issues that have not been resolved."

Sacramento is still waiting for its current revenue projections to materialize, he added. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hoping to receive extra tax money from Indian gaming and the prison system.

This is a much better picture than what threatened the high school district last year -- a $10-million property tax takeaway, a proposal that was eventually dropped.

Responding to the fiscal uncertainty last year, the school board approved three phases of cuts totaling $2.5 million. The school board implemented phase one and two when it approved the 2003-2004 budget.

E-mail Julie O'Shea at [email protected]

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