The Coast News Group
The Vista Unified School District Board of Education during its Sept. 12 meeting at the Vista Civic Center. Photo by Steve Puterski

Financial challenges test VUSD board, staff

VISTA — Arguably the most pressing issue facing the school district is its significant deficit and how the district moves forward in attempt to balance the budget.

During its Sept. 12 Board of Education meeting, staff from the Vista Unified School District reviewed its budget, presented suggested cuts and the board approved contract-negotiated raises.

The big item, though, was the list of potential cuts as a result of the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team report released earlier this year.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Ami Shackelford reported on the General Fund, which the district is currently attempting to balance. However, the plan will take several years as VUSD is operating a negative budget.

Some of the potential cuts are an eight-period day at two high schools. Trustee Rich Alderson said it could inflate the cost by up to $2 million to ensure those schools have a robust eight-period schedule.

“There are a lot of nuances there that are hard to calculate,” he said. “I think it’s easy for us to say that eight-period day is going to generate $3 million to $4 million in additional cost because we’ll have to ensure staff.”

Other potential cuts include more administration staff, reducing legal services and reviewing energy management.

Shackelford, who presented the Fiscal Year 2018-19 actuals, said the district saw a $6.39 million deficit on its restricted side due to an increase in pension costs. Revenues came in $9 million higher than projected, but expenditures were $3 million higher. The total revenue was $274 million, while the expenditures topped $280 million, up from a $277 million estimated.

Regarding the raises, the Vista Teachers’ Association current contract stipulates a formula creating a 3.25% raise for all certified staff. However, the California School Employees Association has a “me too” clause to receive the same raise as the VTA.

Parents at the meeting questioned why the district would allow the two raises, noting for years such an agreement had been rescinded. Regardless, the board voted, 4-1 with Alderson against, to approve the raises. Both groups raises are retroactive to July 1, and totals $5.4 million, according to the VUSD website.

The district is also moving forward with potential refinancing its 2012 General Obligation Refunding Bonds, which could save taxpayers an estimated $2.3 million over the next nine years, according to Tim Cardy of Piper Jaffray, the district’s financial advisor.

Cardy said over the past six months interest rates have dropped significantly to 2.01% from its current rate of 4.96%. The bonds affected by refinancing would be from 2023-28, and five of those six have a rate currently at 5% with the other at 3%.

The district would refinance $36.37 million of existing bonds, although Cardy said it would not extend the term of the bond. The board agreed to move forward and Cardy said a rate could be locked in early November.

If market or interest rates move making it unrealistic to refinance, Cardy said the district would just be in the same position as it is currently.

“You want to grab the market while it’s there,” he added. “The October 2020 tax bill, that’s when local taxpayers would start seeing the benefit of the reduced taxes. A lot of school districts are looking at this opportunity. ”