The Coast News Group
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Carlsbad Unified’s three-year budget projections show deficit reduction

CARLSBAD — In the next three years, the Carlsbad Unified School District is projecting a significant cut to its negative operating budget.

As such, the district’s board of trustees voted, 4-1, to approve the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget and projections for 2020-21 and 2021-22.

Due to several factors, the district has been operating in the red for years. However, thanks to a reduction in one-time expenditures, the district is expecting to cut a $3.4 million deficit next year to just $116,468 by 2021-22, according to Assistant Superintendent Chris Wright.

“It’s not bad news and we’ll take anything that comes our way,” he said. “It doesn’t solve all our problems, but certainly helpful and appreciated.”

Carlsbad Unified’s General Fund revenues for 2019-20 are estimated at $119.5 million with $123.1 million in expenditures.

As for enrollment, the district is projecting a flat growth rate for the next three years.

Other cost reductions include the district’s solar energy project becoming more relevant each year and holding off on $1.3 million in textbook and supplies. The district spends about $2 million on energy and with the goal to be down to about $500,000 in the next several years.

As for the books, those will be purchased next year in 2019-20 and eliminated in 2020-21 purchase to save money, Wright said.

Wright said right-sizing the budget by reducing expenditures to match revenues is another measure in which the district is saving money. Another crucial component, he said, is Gov. Gavin Newsom’s focus on pension liabilities with the state budget.

According to media reports, Newsom’s education budget is spending $3.15 billion on pension benefits for the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

In short, the state is reducing the employer contribution to bring down the costs to districts statewide. By 2020-21 and possibly beyond, Wright said, the employer rate for CalSTRS will drop to 18.1%.

“If they decrease the bill some, that’s super helpful because that frees up General Fund money that we can put elsewhere to address the deficit and put back in the classroom,” Wright added. “Pensions are tough. The state sets the rate and all we do is pay the bill. The pensions were unsustainable and it’s nice to see the state finally doing something about it.”

Carlsbad, though, is still the second-lowest funded district in San Diego County coming in at 41st of 42 districts.

As for the board of trustees, President Kathy Rallings was the lone no vote to approve the budget. She had concerns over the past three years with estimated projections versus the actual budget, and was not in favor of projecting a budget deficit and using money from Local Control Funding Formula stabilization fund to cover budget shortfalls. She also noted how the district was more than $2 million short the past several years when comparing projected budgets versus the budget actuals.

“I have found the LCFF stabilization fund as unnecessary,” she said. “I don’t believe we should be projecting and adopting a budget with that type of history.”

Trustee Claudine Jones cautioned against the solar projections, noting San Diego Gas & Electric tends to increase rates, which would essential vacate any savings.