Wednesday, April 16, 2014

School board ponders backlogged budget priorities

From page A7 | January 24, 2014 | Leave Comment

The Davis school board heard another budget update Thursday night, including further details of the governor’s proposal announced earlier this month.

And once again, the trustees found themselves discussing which of the district’s multiple backlogged budget priorities to address first, now that state funding for schools is starting to rise again, after six years of reductions and deferrals.

Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby told the trustees that based on initial projections, the Davis school district looks to see an increase of $4.2 million in state funding in 2014-15. Colby, whose bleak budget forecasts during the state budget crisis led some trustees to give him the nickname “Doctor Doom,” characterized the governor’s budget proposal as “good news … we haven’t had to look at a situation like this in a long time.”

But Colby was nonetheless frank about what the school board needs to consider. Inflation and other increases are driving up the cost of water, fuel and other commodities. The district also needs to address its ongoing structural deficit of about $1 million a year.

The district also will need to look to backlogged facilities and maintenance projects. During the state budget crisis, the state allowed districts to spend facilities funds on classroom programs; Davis did so to the tune of about $600,000 per year. Those long-deferred maintenance projects will need to be revisited as state funding starts to be restored.

The new school funding formula also comes with rules regarding funds for class size reduction, and many local parents are keen to see Davis return to a lower ratio of students per teacher, something most teachers would welcome as well.

And then there is the matter of employee compensation. Teachers haven’t seen a cost-of-living increase in years, and at the school board’s Jan. 16 budget workshop, several teachers urged the board to make a pay raise its top priority.

The state’s new local control funding formula also revamps funding for career technical education. Several special grants, some of which supported high school agriculture classes, have been discontinued.

And Davis eventually will have to ponder the future of local parcel tax funding, which is a significant portion of the district’s budget. The two school parcel taxes currently in force won’t expire this year, but next year the board probably will be thinking about what sort of parcel tax renewal to put before local voters.

Trustee Susan Lovenburg asked Colby about the district’s facilities and maintenance needs. “Our buildings are old,” Colby said. “We’ve been behind (on long-term maintenance) even before the state budget crisis, and we haven’t had a (voter-approved facilities) bond in a long time.” (The last school facilities bond was approved in May 2000.)

Trustee Nancy Peterson noted that the new state funding formula requires school districts to demonstrate how they are using supplemental state funds earmarked for three categories of students: English learners, those from low-income households and foster children. At the Jan. 16 budget workshop, trustees heard from a group of Spanish-speaking parents at Montgomery Elementary School, who urged them to designate a budget for parent involvement, a key predictor of academic success for every student.

On Thursday night, Peterson suggested “Maybe (the school board) could go to Montgomery for a workshop session. … Part of the Local Control Accountability Plan is to show how engaged parents are, so outreach by the board is really important.”

Trustee Tim Taylor observed that in the eight years he has served on the board “we have never been to Montgomery Elementary (for a board meeting).”

“Time for a road trip,” Peterson quipped.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at or 530-747-8055.


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