Apodaca: Schools have a tough road ahead

July 01, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

As we head into the dog days of summer, thoughts of pressing school matters are probably far from the minds of students and their families.

Not so for officials of Newport-Mesa Unified School District, who continue to wrestle with the very real possibility that they'll be forced to make further cuts to an already emaciated budget.

At the school board meeting Tuesday, Deputy Supt. and Chief Business Official Paul Reed presented the tentative budget for the upcoming school year, which represents a best-guess scenario before the final budget is adopted at the end of August. The good news — if one can call it that — is that through dipping into its $25-million reserve fund and borrowing additional money, the district can avoid more cuts in the upcoming school year.


In other words, we're cracking open our piggy bank — which we're lucky to have, by the way — to make up the difference between what we spend and what we take in.

And we're borrowing money because what we are entitled to take in from the state isn't really what we get, at least not right away. It's the rough equivalent of hitting up Aunt Mildred for a loan until the paycheck that's stuck in the mail finally arrives.

If this arcane financing scheme sounds bad — "horrendous" is how Reed characterizes the overall situation — consider that Newport-Mesa is in relatively good shape in a state where one in seven districts can't pay its bills. That we're better off than most is thanks largely to some prudent planning undertaken by the district in years past — remember the piggy bank? — which has cushioned us from some of the more disastrous options being considered elsewhere.

Still, even relatively good is pretty rotten.

The morning after the board meeting, Reed, who until Thursday was also acting superintendent, met me for coffee to further explain the school funding mess that has districts throughout the state on tenterhooks.

District revenues are expected to total $222.1 million in the next school year, down from $240 million in 2008. But despite $25 million in cuts over the past three years, the district will still spend more than $231 million. That's a shortfall of more than $9 million.

Absent some help on the revenue side, the district can only keep that hole plugged for so long. Reed said that this time next year, we could very well be talking about ways to trim spending further.

"We think it will be a long hard slog the next few years," he said.

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