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Onward into Uncertainty: Schools Pass a Budget

The Albany school board adopted a stay-the-course 2011-12 budget Tuesday, which taps reserves to avoid cuts unless or until state funding is certain.

Suspended between the state’s nebulous budget and its need to nail down plans for the next school year, the board at its Tuesday meeting forged ahead to adopt a 2011-12 spending plan.

The budget, as announced at a , calls for no new cuts in fall, even if the state ends up axing education funding in last-minute budget wrangling. The district will tap into reserves to avoid cuts next year.

“It’s really a wait and see mode,” said Laurie Harden, assistant superintendent and the district’s finance manager.

She added that this is familiar territory for schools, as they're required to adopt a budget by July 1. So is the state. But, especially in recent years, this deadline has been ignored in down-to-the-wire manoeuvring.

Tapping reserves

Whenever the state budget is adopted, and school funding is certain, the Albany can revisit its budget.

This is highly likely, Harden said, calling the budget “a snapshot in time.”

“As the school year progresses the state budget will be adopted and the variables will undoubtedly change,” she wrote in her budget report.

The budget projects $32.5 million in revenue from all sources, including per student state funding, parcel taxes and state lottery income.

Expenses are projected at $33.3 million.

The difference of $917,000 will be covered by the district’s reserve, drawing it down to $4.1 million, or 12 percent of the budget.

The district is required by the state to maintain a 3 percent reserve for emergencies. Schools in the state average an 11 percent reserve, Hardin said. 

The budget doesn’t include contributions from community funds such as , the and , which are used to help fill gaps.

For budget details, including a three-year projection, see the report on the school district’s website. (Warning: It takes a long time to open.)

Good and bad budget highlights 

At the board meeting, Harden highlighted what she considers the good and bad budget news.

Good news: 

  • Optimism that the state will spare cuts to public education
  • Albany, unlike 60 percent of schools in the state, hasn’t reduced school days to save money
  • Not furlough days or benefit/salary reductions for staff
  • Healthy reserves allow planning time if more cuts are necessary

Bad news:

  • Uncertainty around state tax extensions
  • Late state budget could mean mid-year school cuts
  • Local parcel tax dollars needed to support core programs, with Measure J expiring in 2014
  • Federal stimulus one-time funds end in 2011-12. In Albany, stimulus was used for staff salaries. 

Harden also pointed out that the is restructuring to be self-supporting, including repaying a $500,000 2010-11 loan from the district; the school cafeteria program is self-supporting; and it’s too soon to know if are helping it become self-supporting—a district goal for the program to survive.

In reference to s held in spring, School Board President Pat Low thanked Harden for helping the board “listen to the community” in deciding to use reserves during this time of budget unknowns.  

Are you a state budget watcher, or happy to let others decipher what's going on in Sacramento? Tell us in the comments.

Everybody makes mistakes ... ! If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at emilier@patch.com. 

Ira Sharenow June 23, 2011 at 08:21 PM
Prior to the meeting there was a meeting on the AUSD strategic plan that some consultant gave. There was a PP presentation. The district did not post the PP slides. Can Patch do so? Apparently other stuff was handed out in a packet. It would nice to have it made available to the public. How much is the consultant paid and who is she? What are her credentials? I do not understand why the district is so reluctant to provide information to the public, but I hope that Patch can step in. The public has a right to know. http://www.ausdk12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?dir=agendas%20and%20packets&hideMenu=1&termREC_ID=&pREC_ID=173332&type=d&uREC_ID=97076 Another issue is that the board members do not necessarily speak into the microphones, so their comments are unintelligible. In general the sound is low. Why does the district continue to set up these roadblocks to a fully informed public?
Catherine (Kate) Rauch June 23, 2011 at 08:30 PM
We hope to do a story on the strategic plan eventually. It's a long process. All materials were at the meetings, free for anyone to take from the back table.
Emilie Raguso June 23, 2011 at 10:15 PM
I'm being told today by the school district that all board documents, minutes and other presentations given to the board will be available as of August in a new online system on the school board website. I agree that all documents presented to the board should be available online to the public in a timely manner.
Emilie Raguso June 23, 2011 at 10:24 PM
Slight clarification: I'm told by AUSD that all presentations given by consultants, etc., will be requested. Those that are made available will be posted after the meeting in a timely manner. If there are cases where a document is not posted, or there's an issue with making it available, I will be happy to put in a public records request for it.
Ira Sharenow June 23, 2011 at 11:57 PM
I am very happy that Albany Patch is contributing to openness. I think the Board should post the contributed documents prior to the meeting. I also think it is unfortunate that the chair essentially had a private conversation with a number of people because no one was speaking into the microphone. There was talk of doing something about the lack of diversity in staff as well as having clear goals for facilities, but there seemed to be nothing concrete. What are the goals with respect to enrollment and the costs associated with admitting so many non-residents mid-stream? Please note this was just an update from an ongoing plan. At about the 35:50 mark, Alan Maris, a board member referred to a project management document. Marla apparently did not want to discuss it in detail. Since it was given to board members, it is a public document and needs to be posted. Apparently, there will also be email correspondence. Does the board want the public to know what is going on? Has the board and administration spent years talking about doing something while not actually doing very much? I would like to see a clearly stated one or two pager that lists objectives posted on line in a place people will look. I associate the board and administration with vagueness and a lack of openness and transparency.

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