School district budget saved by federal funds

VISTA — Just two weeks earlier, on June 10, trustees on the Vista Unified School District board of directors considered sweeping manpower and salary cuts to close a $9.7 million gap in the 2009-2010 budget. Thanks to an 11th hour infusion of federal funds, the board was able to unanimously approve a balanced budget June 25, which avoided service or personnel cuts.
“We’re very pleased,” Superintendent Joyce Bales said.
The district had already sliced $11.8 million from the budget in February and March meetings. This left virtually no discretionary funds for the further cuts mandated under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revised state budget put forward in May.
Luckily for the district, one-time federal aid was far higher than expected — $11,894,715 in State Fiscal Stabilization funds and IDEA Special Education funds. The district will have to institute a series of assessments to make sure it uses the monies according to federal and state guidelines, but Deputy Superintendent Sandy Genewicz said the district will not have to alter its methods or quality of service.
Genewicz said that other states with less distressed finances are using the federal stimulus funds to launch new programs rather than plugging budget holes.
“Perhaps in other states this would be a real boon,” she said. “For us it was a matter of just plain survival.”
Board President Carol Herrera expressed concern that the sudden budget reprieve made the board lose credibility with the public, creating the perception that they were crying “wolf” when it there was, in fact, money to be had all along. Donna Caperton, the district’s chief business officer, said that information on funding was put out to the board and public as quickly as she received it. She had not known how much the government would be providing until June 12.
Caperton also stressed that the federal stimulus money only constituted a one-year respite for the district. She described the 2010-2011 budget deficit as horrid, anticipated to be $12.5 million. The cuts anticipated for this year will have to be revisited before the first interim budget report is written at the end of October.
“We’re going to have to either negotiate with our union, maybe increase class sizes a bit more, maybe we take an across the board pay cut, maybe we cut days,” Caperton said.
“I think the next round of cuts will truly have to be some human resource cuts,” Genewicz said. “We’ve done everything else.”
The Vista Unified School District Budget Advisory Committee meets July 7 to discuss next year’s budget. More information can be found at www.vusd.k12.ca.us.

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