Tough Budget Choices Ahead for Ramona Unified School District

A projected budget deficit of $6.5 million is forcing the district to look at possible cuts in certified and classified staffing and home-to-school transportation for 2012-2013.

Ramona's school board reluctantly last week gave staff the green light to research ways to offset a possible shortfall of $6.5 million for the next school year.

"We have to consider everything I guess," President Dan Lopez said to his colleagues at the Feb. 16 board meeting. "This isn’t what I wanted to be discussing when I ran for this board. We’ve been doing this for three years. I’d rather be talking about instruction."

The discussion was another round of brainstorming about what can be done if several ballot initiatives to extend and increase taxes to support schools do not pass in the November election.

Gov. Jerry Brown proposes two initiatives that would raise taxes for people at the highest end of the income scale. The measures are almost identical versions of The Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012. One was filed in December and the other—with a corrected typo—was filed in January. Either of them or both of them could go on the ballot, depending whether they each receive the necessary 807,615 signatures.

The measures both call for new taxes that would expire in five years, per the Constitution. They also temporarily restore some sales taxes that were in effect last year. Both versions, obtained from the Secretary of State's Office, are attached to this story.

Several other initiatives that propose increases in personal income tax to aid schools could compete on the ballot. To read them on the Secretary of State's website, click here.

At the board meeting, David Ostermann presented a list of possible "Budget Crisis Solutions" that Ramona could implement if none of the initiatives passes. The district is mandated by the County Department of Education to plan as though no initiative passes. If one does, funding could be re-allocated.

Ostermann is the assistant superintendent of Administrative Services. His list is attached to this story. It includes:

  1. Certified layoffs, which could mean elimination of the K-6 music program and an increase in class size to 30 students for every teacher
  2. Classified layoffs
  3. Elimination of, or cuts to, home-to-school transportation
  4. Eiimination of funding for freshman athletics

Ostermann asked board members which ideas they wanted him to research. The board chose the first three, while telling Ostermann they'd like to hold off on looking at cuts to the athletic programs.

Board members agreed that they were reluctant to have to look at cuts in these areas but that they needed to have all the information at hand to make decisions.

"You've presented this as a crisis," Rodger Dohm told Ostermann. "So I guess we'll have to deal with it. This is happening in my industry. I’d rather do this than go bankrupt."

Brown's measures note that the state of California has made $56 billion in cuts to education, law enforcement, fire protection, healthcare and "other critical state and local services" in the past four years. The plans are proposed to reduce or avoid further cuts.

This week, Ramona Unified School District Superintendent Robert Graeff told Patch what the district's stance is on the initiatives.

"Our position is that we hope one—and only one—eventually qualifies for the ballot so as not to confuse the voters," he said. "But any of the proposals are likely to benefit our local schools in some substantial manner. Without voter support, most districts across the state—and locally—will be scaling back services for children and families to very basic levels."

The president of Ramona Teachers Association, when reporting to the board on current negotiations at last week's meeting, expressed frustration over what the RTA sees as frequent changes by the district and she said there hasn't been enough communication regarding a possible bond issue.

"Negotiations have begun and they're contentious," Donna Braye-Romero said. "We would like to come to mutually advantageous solutions. The best is a retirement incentive. We will not make concessions based on speculation.

She criticized the district for "wild projections about the future."

"You're changing them every day but you're asking us to bargain," she said.

"You haven’t come to us to discuss a bond. Why not?"

"The RTA is committed to a settlement but it needs to be fair," she said. "It needs to pass the test of reason. Reasonable negotiation would be appreciated."

Board member Kim Lasley echoed the RTA's concern about frequent changes in the possible budget solutions.

"You are constantly making proposals and they are constantly changing," she told Ostermann. "I know it’s based on what’s coming down from the governor’s office but it’s hard to deal with."

Ostermann told the board, "The lack of money has come from the state, not from anyone in this room or in the district."

Joe Minervini February 25, 2012 at 04:09 PM
....here we go again.....seems like Sacramento liberals have not been aware of what they call the Great Recession." They have been spending like drunk sailors for years and now they want to go after the "rich" to bail them out of their stupidity. Our school board has to deal with what the Democrat legislators have been doing for the last 20 years. A good friend of mine recently moved to Arizona because he "...couldn't afford to be retired in California..." Its probably time for parents of students to volunteer and help with maintenance, driving busses, assistant teaching, etc. Either way, the school board has some difficult decisions ahead. Joe Minervini


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