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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 12:30 pm | A Few Clouds 63º


Facing Steep Budget Cuts, Hope School District Rallies to Save Staff Positions

After an $800,000 budget shortfall was announced, the district and its foundation are working to raise enough money by Friday to save classroom aides

Students and parents line up to buy a variety of treats at a bake sale at Vieja Valley Elementary School. Proceeds went toward saving classroom aides from being layed off. Click to view larger
Students and parents line up to buy a variety of treats at a bake sale at Vieja Valley Elementary School. Proceeds went toward saving classroom aides from being layed off.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

As soon as Chloe Voigt and Sierra Beban heard about the serious financial predicament their school district faced, the first graders undertook the classic elementary school fundraising strategy: a bake sale.

Their idea of a bake sale became one of Hope School District’s latest fundraisers as it works feverishly to stave off $300,000 in staff cuts. 

In September, it was revealed that, due primarily to a few major accounting errors, the Santa Barbara district faced an $800,000 budget shortfall for the present school year.

The district has already taken on plenty of cuts after working out a plan with the Santa Barbara County Education Office, said district Superintendent Anne Hubbard.

Now, the Hope School District Educational Foundation is working to save aides, librarians and other staff who have received pink slips in the budget crisis fall out.

The Hope School District teaches roughly 1,000 students in HopeMonte Vista and Vieja Valley elementary schools in northwestern Santa Barbara.

A small army of those students turned out to Vieja Valley on Friday afternoon with cookies, cupcakes, breads, pies and more.

“We wanted to help the school keep the aides,” Voigt said.

The district, which operates under a roughly $10 million annual budget, had an immediate shortfall of about $386,000, the district’s board of trustees said at a Sept. 19 town hall meeting with parents.

That number ballooned to roughly $800,000 when the need to restore the district’s 4-percent reserve fund was figured in.

The scope of what was called “an extreme budget shortfall for at least the coming year” was revealed in a letter to parents a week before the town hall.

A Hope School District student performs for bake sale attendees at Vieja Valley Elementary School. Click to view larger
A Hope School District student performs for bake sale attendees at Vieja Valley Elementary School.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

“The (Hope School District) board had to cut some very key positions to get their budget approved by the county office of education,” said Michele Voigt, Chloe’s mother and an Education Foundation board member.

“And that included losing a lot of people who really we feel help our students succeed on a daily basis — our classroom aides, our librarians, intervention specialists, our health clerks and custodial hours.”

The foundation mobilized immediately, she said, and raised an impressive $100,000 in its first week of fundraising, a sum delivered to the board of trustees on Nov. 14 that reinstates librarians and health clerks, and restores hours for intervention specialists.

“The community has responded in a remarkable way,” Voigt said.

The foundation’s “Campaign for Hope” has now received grants and donations from corporations and parents, some of whom have secured matching donations from their employers.

Fundraisers have included one this past weekend at Captain Fatty’s Craft Brewery in Goleta and family photo shoots by a local photographer.

The foundation is now racing to finish raising the final $100,000 needed to rescind pink slips that were handed out to classroom aides.

The deadline is Nov. 25, and the layoffs would go into effect next month, Voigt said.

Donations to the foundation can be directed here.

The school district itself did not realize the full scope of its budgetary problem until August when checks began to bounce, the Board of Trustees explained at its town hall meeting.

The multi-year problem began compounding when the district’s former business manager missed a critical update from the county regarding the district’s special education budget numbers, inadvertently helping to increase its own contribution to county special education services, according to the district. 

The Board of Trustees also talked about recent cuts that were budgeted by the former business manager and never implemented. 

Per state mandate, the county’s school districts must provide special education services to children who are not yet of school age. Those services have traditionally been contracted out to the Santa Barbara County Education Office and paid for by the districts.

After a vote by the county’s districts a few years back to allow them to quickly opt out of county programming, a number of districts left to provide and pay for their own in-house preschool special education services, according to trustees.

The SBCEO’s services didn’t shrink in proportion with the number of students who left them, meaning Hope and the other districts that remained began shouldering much larger slices of the total cost of the county’s services, trustee Chris Gallo said in September.

The Hope district representative in that vote, Gallo said, probably didn’t realize the financial ramifications of voting for it.

The district, though, has filed the required one-year notice with the county of its intent to withdraw from its preschool special education services in favor of its own services, Jestin St. Peter, the district’s special education coordinator, told parents at the town hall.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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