ENCINITAS — Despite the lingering fear of layoffs, the Encinitas Union School District is prepared to weather the financial storm according to officials.
Superintendent Lean King sent an open letter to the staff, parents and community in late February explaining the district’s plan to address the shortfalls in education funding.
“This (shortfall) is beyond levels that we’ve seen in my career,” King said in an interview. King has been in the public education system for 40 years, with 17 years in an administrative capacity. He is scheduled to retire at the end of June.
King said the budget crisis at the state level impacting education funding came as no surprise. “We knew in the public education sector that the state was in trouble last year,” he said.
As a so-called basic aid district, Encinitas, along with neighboring Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Del Mar, receives 67 percent of its budget from local property tax revenues. “The housing economy is tied to the education budget, and we all know what a downturn it has taken,” King said. While coastal communities haven’t been the hardest hit by the housing crisis, King said the district is now receiving less money from housing revenues. “The assessed value usually increases by 6 to 7 percent each year,” he said. “However, in December it only increased by two and a half percent.”
The county treasurer notifies the district in December and April of each year what the amount will be.
In response to the economic crisis, the district has budgeted conservatively. Yet, gaps in spending will make an impact on some classrooms. Temporary teachers on a one-year contract have been given notices. This differs from the infamous “pink slip” phenomenon that is spreading through other districts. “In many cases these teachers will be asked back if the permanent teacher they have replaced for the previous year decides not to return,” King said.
Some parents are nervous about the idea of expanding the size of classrooms, having less teachers’ aides and decreased funding for gifted and talented programs. “We might be in a better position than other districts, but there is no way this isn’t going to impact our schools,” Jean Sumners said. Sumners’ daughter is a student in the district. “I can’t imagine having even one more child in her classroom, it’s hard enough to teach to 20 kids as it is.”
King said that teachers are also anxious. “They are reading the same things in the paper that we are all reading,” he said. “But our district is taking as many measures as possible to continue the high quality of education.
One of the actions the district has taken is to defer the adoption of a new reading and language arts program. King cited the cost of new textbooks and professional development to implement the program in his letter. Its request must be approved by the State Board of Education.