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Encinitas school district pushes for changes in state’s education funding

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Union School District held a special public budget workshop Tuesday that focused on ways to stem the tide of money flowing out of the district and also emphasized the importance of engaging state lawmakers to change the way education is funded.As the district staff investigated ways to cut money from its shrinking budget, the board and Encinitas Union School District Superintendent Tim Baird urged attendees to lobby state legislators and educate other voters about state initiatives impacting school funding.

District officials are prepared to increase class size, scale back on employee training programs and eliminate jobs in order to cut the costs of operating nine elementary schools in the city and southern Carlsbad. So far, 12 teachers have received layoff notices.

Without a certain direction from the state government on education funding and instability at the federal level, local school districts are making tough decisions on how to spend their money. While most of the measures discussed limit the effect of budget cuts on student services, student services were not treated as a holy grail.

In fact, class size was a major focus of the meeting. The ratio for kindergarten classes has climbed from 20 students to 23 for every teacher and for first grade from 22 students to 23 for every teacher over the past two fiscal years.

Next year, the board could vote to increase the ratio to 24 students for every teacher, which would realize a savings of more than $416,000. Another option is to increase the number of students to 27 for every teacher, with savings of approximately $1 million.

The increase in class size is particularly worrisome to many parents. Elsa Ruiz, who has two children in the district said the bulging classrooms are already a problem. “My sons get lost in the crowd,” she said. “It’s a good school but the teachers just don’t have enough time to really teach.”

Encinitas is a basic-aid district with approximately $38 million in annual revenues in the general fund. The state’s “fair share” cut takes money from basic-aid districts in order to achieve parity with revenue-limited districts.

District officials projected a $3 million funding loss through the fair share cut in the 2011-2012 school year, with an additional $5 million projected for the following year.

Options impacting teachers and staff, such as furlough days and early retirement incentives must first be negotiated with the union. The board was hesitant to cut any instructional days from the school year calendar.

The board said it is waiting on the state’s revised budget to be released in May before adopting a district budget in June. Potential revenue sources such as the sale of the Pacific View Elementary property and the lease of district owned property on Quail Gardens Drive are still in negotiation and could not be counted on for the June budget.

Baird rallied the attendees to push for reform at all levels of the political spectrum. “We’ve got a voice here,” Baird said. “We could make a difference.”

Baird explained two possible ballot initiatives that could impact state education funding. Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal would help the state pay school districts on time through a sales tax increase and a “millionaire’s tax.” The PTA sponsored Munger initiative, would bring in new money to the district via graduated income tax increases.