For the first time in four years, the Santa Barbara Unified School District is operating without a structural deficit.
Expenses have exceeded revenues in past budgets, but the final numbers for the 2011-12 year show an operational surplus and strong attendance numbers.
But Meg Jette, assistant superintendent of business services, said the good news isn’t a license to spend.
She said this year’s budget was balanced only through cuts and employees agreeing to seven days of furloughs, which resulted in five fewer days of school for students.
The state has missed its revenue projections for the first two months of this fiscal year, and there will be midyear “trigger cuts” if state Proposition 30 doesn’t pass in November. Plus, Jette said, federal school funding will drop 8 percent for the 2013-14 year.
There are a lot of unknowns out there as well, she added: It’s unclear whether state Propositions 30 or 38 will pass, which would both provide some education funding; whether the local parcel measures will pass; whether there will be a new president of the United States; and whether the district will become basic aid-funded again.
“Everything about school finances is uncertain — that’s the only certainty,” Superintendent Dave Cash.
The Board of Education approved higher developer fees at Tuesday’s meeting that will go into effect in 60 days. Residential development project fees will increase from 47 cents per square foot to 51 cents, and commercial fees will increase from $2.97 to $3.20 per square foot.
Jette said the Santa Barbara district collects the fees for its feeder districts and distributes the funds.
During public comment at Tuesday’s school board meeting, Santa Barbara Junior High School eighth-grader Elise Adams asked for help with a unique problem: School administrators are asking her to spend less time on the campus.
Adams has an extremely packed schedule, with her days starting at 5 a.m. for water polo. She plays alto saxophone in zero-period band and has no first-period class since she takes independent study physical education. She said that break is essential for her to eat and get ready for the rest of her school day.
To keep up with her extracurricular activities and high grades — she’s also an honors/GATE student — Adams said she needs good time management and cooperation of her teachers.
This year, though, her school said she can’t stay on campus during that gap, since there is no one to watch her. Instead, she has been asked to go home after zero period and come back for second period for the first three weeks of school.
Her mother, Denise, said there are no policies prohibiting enrolled students from being on campus during the school day, and asked the board to help find a solution.
“If you could accommodate my daughter and others, I’d be grateful, but she’s the only one in this situation,” she said.
Ben Drati, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said the school is trying to find a place for Adams. He’s working with Santa Barbara Junior High to find a classroom for Adams to sit in during that time, perhaps as a teacher’s assistant. He added that Adams can’t just sit in an office — it needs to be somewhere with a roll call, so an adult is responsible for her whereabouts.
Independent study physical education students usually schedule a free period at the end of the day so they can leave early. Drati said he may be working with junior high schools to develop a policy, so there are rules in place for future students in the same situation.