The Sonoma Valley Unified School District board approved the 2011-2012 school budget on Tuesday night with a unanimous vote.
Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese presented the proposed budget, urging school board members to vote to approve despite the fact that, once again, continued economic uncertainties coming from Sacramento could very well derail the structured and conservative plan. If substantive changes are needed, Frese said he would bring that information back to the board in August.
Frese’s overall view was optimistic as he noted three of California’s economic indicators were improving – state tax revenues, jobs, and personal income. He observed that in Sonoma, a basic aid district funded predominantly by local tax dollars, “the growth in tax revenue has dropped off precipitously over the last few years.” For this reason, the district believes that budgeting for a tax drop is too conservative and will continue to hold tax estimates for 2011-2012 at zero percent and two percent growth in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. For the 2011-2012 school year, the district anticipates a tax reserve of approximately $985,000.
Looking forward, Frese stated that it will be necessary to make budget reductions for the 2012-2013 school year, and he will initiate the process to identify the reductions in the fall of 2011. He recommended a reduction of expenses totaling some $2,140,000, which represents 80 percent of the current deficit projection and will ensure that the district not make more reductions than necessary. The plan will require additional reductions of $530,000 or more to be made in the 2013-2014 year if the economy does not change. This plan is intended to ensure that the district does not over-cut programs while waiting to see if taxes recover or if an overall state recovery allows the removal of the 8.92 percent “Fair Share” cut.
“These are extraordinary economic times…we must continue to manage our budget with a great degree of conservatism over the next few years,” said Frese. For this year at least, Frese pointed to the state’s willingness to give school districts tremendous flexibility in categorical programs, allowing for creative spending to keep essential programs alive. A requirement for taking advantage of this flexibility is holding a public hearing to discuss the various uses.