District curbs losses with further budget cuts

On March 19, the Novato Unified School District Board of Trustees approved the Second Interim Budget Report as well as the proposed Budget Balancing Process for the 2019-2020 school year. The proposed cuts entailed in the Budget Balancing Process projected approximately $1.8 million in savings, larger than the recommendations made by last year’s Budget Advisory Committee. Of that amount, 44 percent would come from reducing current staffing, effectively decreasing the number of teachers within the school district and increasing the ratio of students to staff.

In the Second Interim Budget Report, the district was forecast to run a deficit of nearly $5 million for the third year in a row, after reporting projected losses of $5.1 million and $5.2 million in the 2016-  2017 and 2017-2018 school years respectively. The actual deficits reported by the district at the end of the two school years were considerably lower, however, with the unaudited reports showing losses of $1.8 million and $2.5 million for the two school years.

“The district’s enrollment projection forecasts additional declines for the foreseeable future,” Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Yancy Hawkins said. “It’s likely that the district will need additional cuts in future years, especially if this pattern in enrollment continues.”

In response to the trend of continuous losses, the Board of Trustees directed staff members to draft a list of potential solutions that would be compiled into the Budget Balancing Process at the beginning of the 2018- 2019 school year. The new process built upon the efforts of the Budget Advisory Committee, a group of teachers, parents and other staff members dedicated to cutting expenditures in last year’s budget.

To gauge the community opinion, staff members released a survey over the course of the first two weeks of February, receiving over 1,500 responses. Staff members presented the finalized list of proposed budget solutions to the Board of Trustees after nearly five months of deliberation, and identified a total of $1.8 million that could be cut from the current budget or recovered through other means.

“This is one of the most thought-out processes we’ve tried to employ in the district to solve the budget issues,” Assistant Principal Diane Santamorena said. “Cuts will be cuts, but we’ve gotten a lot of input from the community to make sure that these don’t affect students or staff significantly.”

Of the total $1.8 million designated by the Budget Balancing Process, approximately $600,000, or a third of the total costs, will be cut from the District Office and its professional development contracts. This comes after numerous complaints from members of the community regarding what was perceived as excessive spending for non- essential elements that didn’t directly benefit students attending schools within the district.

“The District continues to look for areas to create efficiencies and review budgets to see if there are any areas to cut back,” Hawkins said. “Unfortunately, any reduction will ultimately have impacts on students and staff. The district engaged all of our stakeholder groups in an effort to limit the negative impact.”

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