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Friday, December 19, 2008

School District Looks at Budget Assumptions, Passes Election Consolidation

In an action packed meeting Thursday night, the Davis Joint Unified School District received the first interim budget from Budget Director Bruce Colby. Despite uncertainty about the state budget, Mr. Colby reported that the school district has enough in its rainy day reserves to survive this fiscal year with no additional cuts.
"General Fund is deficit spending and has adequate rainy day reserves to maintain positive budget certification with the approved current state budget assumptions. The District budget will need to be adjusted once the state acts on revisions due to the state budget crisis."
That is the good news for the school district. The bad news is that next year they will not be in such fortunate shape. Depending on the budget that is ultimately approved, the district is probably looking at a sizable deficit of at $1.8 million. This is entirely due to the state's budget crisis and the prospect not only of zero COLA but the likelihood of budget cuts barring a major surprise.

Based on current budget assumptions, the district will be in the black for the three fiscal years covered by the report. The caveat is that once a new budget is passed, the assumptions will change and the district will have to adjust its budget.

One of the interesting aspects to the discussion last night over the budget is that the Governor's budget provides more flexibility on categorical funding than the Democrat's budget. Mr. Colby suggested that at least from the standpoint of this district, we are better off with greater categorical fund flexiblity. Board member Susan Lovenburg mentioned that the district had received a letter from Senator Gloria Romero who chairs the education committee asking the district to her know what their needs are in terms of categorical fund flexibility. The district will have Mr. Colby communicate with the legislature including our own representatives to let them know about our needs.

Board Votes Unanimously to Consolidate Elections

Richard Harris felt truly conflicted about the issue of extending his own term by one year. He understood the budget realities facing the district. The fact of the matter is that the county was going to impose much larger fees for conducting an election. He still wanted to look toward a means of compromise for his term. He expressed frustration at the meeting about the process and the fact that the County Clerk was passing along fixed costs to local jurisdictions. He also questioned the decision by the Clerk to hire a new chief deputy. Very similar to the views expressed in the Vanguard yesterday.

In the end, he did the right thing and voted to consolidate the terms even though he recognized he would earn the scorn and ridicule of a local columnist who had previously given him an "A" for standing against such a move.

If it means anything to Richard Harris, I grew a measure of respect for him during this process as I could see a very genuine conflict in his mind between two principles--the first being a democratic principle of not extending his term that he was elected to and the other being a fiscal principle that he had to steward the school district through appalling economic times.

I think it was important that this vote not go down 3-2. I think that would have cast more doubt on the process and the legitimacy of it. So it was pleasing to see Mr. Harris and Susan Lovenburg do the right thing and join their colleagues on what was clearly a painful (and rightfully so) decision.

For that I give Richard Harris an "A" even though I recognize it does not mean nearly as much coming from me as it does from my longer term counterpart at the Davis Enterprise.

Board Votes to Extend Health Benefits and Bruce Colby's Contract

I am disappointed to report that the board voted 5-0 to extend the health benefits of certain classes of district employees during this time of economic crisis. As I explained earlier this week, the raises are much deserved and needed. The timing is suspect. The district has basically frozen open positions to balance out the books. That is both noted and appreciated.

That said, if they could freeze open positions to offset these costs, that means those freezes will not be available in the future to offset other needed cuts. That is my chief concern.

Boardmember Lovenburg voted for this one suggesting that the district had already promised this increase for health benefits because they had done the rest of the district's employees in a previous year and promised these employees that they would get their turn.

However, when it came time to extend the contract of Bruce Colby, Ms. Lovenburg held the only dissenting vote. She expressed strong support for Mr. Colby. However, she said she would only support a three year extension on the same terms as before. We could not afford to do a pay raise at this point in time.

As I stated earlier this year, no one has more appreciation for the work he has done than myself. This is not an issue of support or lack of support for Mr. Colby. Unfortunately we live in times where we will need maximum budget flexibility. The district has done an admirable job of balancing these pay increases.

I want to be clear that the district has made the funds available for these increases and it has come at the expense of the very departments where these individuals work. In other words, in exchange for greater pay or benefits, they will have to do more work. I want that point to be clear.

My problem with this is that once you cut these positions you will not have that flexibility next year when you face huge budget cuts. The district decided that their health benefits were irresponsibly low and that had to be rectified, I just do not believe this is the year to rectify that problem.

---David M. Greenwald reporting