Monday, January 22 , 2018, 3:02 pm | Fair 62º


Santa Barbara Unified School District Faces $2.5 Million Budget Deficit

District will consider changes for Open Alternative School and may eliminate seventh grade and eighth grade classes due to low enrollment

Low enrollment at the K-8 Open Alternative School could lead to big changes, including the elimination of the seventh- and eighth-grade classes. Click to view larger
Low enrollment at the K-8 Open Alternative School could lead to big changes, including the elimination of the seventh- and eighth-grade classes.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara Unified School District officials are facing a $2.5-million budget deficit for the 2017-18 year as it deals with declining enrollment and significant increases for the costs of employee retirement and health benefits.

The district will have fewer state and local revenues next year due to one-time funds from the College Readiness Block Grant and the end of Measures A and B voter-approved parcel taxes, according to the district's 161-page fiscal year first interim report.

Superintendent Cary Matsuoka said in attempting to fix the budget problems, about 70 percent is solved.

“We are not cutting any programs (and) we aren’t losing any teacher jobs or laying off any employees,” Matsuoka said. “It’s about using our current staffing efficiently. That doesn’t mean cuts — it means using our staffing smartly.”

The average cost of a public school teacher in the district is about $80,000, which includes retirement benefit costs, Medicare and workers' compensation, according to a staff report.

At SBUSD, which has about 15,000 students enrolled and a $153.6-million budget this year, the average attendance is running at about 13,300 students, according to board president Kate Parker.

The district is waiting on enrollment numbers and a demographic services report from the state that will arrive in about a month. 

“The state's enrollment figure includes our charter schools, and the attendance does not, so that's one reason for the discrepancy,” Parker said.

An executive cabinet of eight members have been analyzing expenses to find the best solutions to close the looming budget deficit and the group plans to consult with school principals about proposed changes, Matsuoka said. 

Recommended cuts include:

» Sizing the Open Alternative School to a smaller enrollment, with a savings of $169,000.
» Eliminating various technology software platforms, with a savings of $100,000.
» Trimming one technology coach position from the district’s staff which saves $87,000.
» Eliminating several part-time GATE coordinators for a savings of $25,000. The district recommends keeping one position.

Possible reductions include:

» Cutting six full-time staff from the district’s master schedule for a savings of $480,000.
» A reduction in operating costs that may include legal services or utilities, for a savings of $468,000.   
» Reduce elementary school staffing by four full-time positions for a savings of $320,000.
» Working with school principals to find an approximate 5-percent reduction in site allocations and a savings of $200,000. 

Even after these reductions are made, the general fund ending balance is estimated to be short $651,000. 

“The list of initial recommendations are at the tentative phase,” Parker said. “It doesn’t get us to the $2.5 million.”

District staff will find ways to bridge the remaining savings over the next three weeks, and Matsuoka plans to finalize plans by the March 14 school board meeting. 

The board is expected to adopt a final revised budget at the same meeting, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Unified School District, at 720 Santa Barbara St. 

“My goals is to have the $2.5 million problem solved to the 95 percent level by that board meeting,” Matsuoka said. “We may have a 100 percent solution to the board.”

To view the superintendent's entire presentation on the revised budget, click here

Decreasing enrollment at Open Alternative School

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board discussed budget cuts and considered reducing the size of Open Alternative School.

The board did not take action and will revisit the proposals in the coming weeks.

OAS, located at 4025 Foothill Road in the back of the La Colina Junior High School campus, provides an open and alternative educational experience for children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The school has seen enrollment fall in recent years and district staff recommend downsizing as a solution. 

“The enrollment has dropped to a number that is not a sustainable school,” Matsuoka said. “We had an ongoing conversation with OAS about their enrollment (and) what we have to eliminate because of their small size.”

One recommendation is to stop teaching seventh grade and eighth grade next year, since the school currently has only six students enrolled in those two grades.

This number is not an ideal educational environment for junior high students as they prepare for high school, Matsuoka said. 

The 2016-17 school year enrollment dropped to 84 students, compared to 138 in the 2015-16 school year.

The school peaked at 225 students, according to a staff report.

Matsuoka stressed that OAS will continue associate with the district, and transitional and regular kindergarten enrollment is welcomed for the next school year. 

Current kindergarten enrollment is at around 24 students, which Matsuoka said was a solid number. 

The downsizing recommendation includes moving the supervision of the school to La Colina's administration and eliminating the OAS principal position, which will save the district about $89,650 a year.

Matsuoka said he plans to analyze the duties of the office manager position, which will save about $78,636 annually if removed.

A final recommendation to the board will be presented after Matsuoka examines the office position. 

“The only open question is the office manager position,” Matsuoka said. “I need to get on the ground and understand what goes on.”

OAS — which has 10 classrooms — was founded in 1975 as an alternative to the traditional elementary school instruction.

District staff also seeks to update the school’s vision and instructional model. 

“We are going to start the conversation about the future of the elementary school,” Matsuoka said. “Parts of the OAS model are eternal, but other parts need to be changed. I look forward to the redesign outcome.”

The goal is to pivot OAS towards a new alternative school that represents the needs of the community in time for the 2018-19 school year, according to a staff report. 

OAS staff and Matsuoka are “actively working on continuing and expanding the school’s project-based, socially active learning community,” according to a statement from OAS staff.

“Much to their credit, the school board expressed interest in learning more about the enrollment history of OAS and invited staff to contact them,” the statement said.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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.

There are 84 children currently enrolled at Open Alternative School, which has 10 classrooms on La Colina Junior High School’s campus. Click to view larger
There are 84 children currently enrolled at Open Alternative School, which has 10 classrooms on La Colina Junior High School’s campus.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)
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