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Budget Issues at Forefront as District Prepares for New School Year

Officials discuss efforts in the works, including basic aid funding and a special-ed action plan

School starts Aug. 24, and the Santa Barbara School Districts are looking at another year of deep budget cuts.

The districts face an additional $4.2 million in cuts, and midyear reductions are a definite possibility, administrators said Tuesday during a media meeting.

Budgeting on a multiyear basis and dealing with the unpredictability of the state’s deficit make the situation more difficult, said Eric Smith, deputy superintendent for business and noninstructional operations. “Problems come home to roost at the local level,” he said.

But the districts have a plan. They are pursuing basic aid funding, which would decrease or eliminate dependence on state financial support. Basic aid districts get their money from local property taxes.

Decreasing enrollment also has contributed to the possibility of basic aid funding, Superintendent Brian Sarvis said. The issue of interdistrict transfers for secondary students may need to be addressed by the Board of Education. The districts recently have drawn up maps with more clearly defined boundaries. 

Budget issues have led to an “unprecedented year for personnel,” personnel director Kristine Robertson said. There were many full-time equivalent layoffs, but federal stimulus-funded retirement initiatives and other factors have allowed most of them to be rescinded, she said.

All administrators present Tuesday praised teaching staff for last year’s higher STAR test scores after years of underwhelming gains.

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Caryl Miller, the special-ed department’s interim administrator, appears before the school board to discuss the results of the FCMAT report. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Scores have risen more than 10 percent and 15 percent for English language arts and math, respectively, in the past five years. Both sets of scores saw gains of more than 5 percent last year, an improvement Sarvis and associate superintendent Robin Sawaske said they were “finally” happy with.

To further English language arts improvement, a new computer program to address below-proficiency literacy, Read 180, is being implemented this year using federal stimulus funds.

The stable monies given to professional development and trainings also contribute to the quality of the district’s teachers, Sawaske said.

The special-education department’s new interim administrator, Caryl Miller, spoke about upcoming plans to address recommendations made by the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) report. Miller and others broke the more-than-150 recommendations into 16 “clusters” and will begin working on an action plan.

The existing changes recommended to the Board of Education include paid positions of a parent resource, an ombudsman and third program specialist. The plan submitted to the Board of Education added up to an estimated $324,000 over two years, which would come from federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds the districts already have.

Though the department has had difficulty filling personnel positions, it hopes to have all of its teaching and support staff by the beginning of the school year, Miller said. Administrative positions are open until filled, and many interviews have been conducted for executive director.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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