SDUHSD budget deficit looms at $9 million

The San Dieguito Union High School District is still projecting a $9 million budget deficit for the current school year with less than a month before final budget numbers are released.

The board of trustees is expected to vote on Thursday on its spring revised budget, which will show the district’s $141 million in expenses outpace the $132 million in projected revenue.

This is slightly lower than the projected $9.7 million budget gap that the district reported in December, but still large enough to reignite criticism and concerns from some stakeholders about the district’s financial decision making.

But district Superintendent Eric Dill said that the district’s financial footing is sound and the final numbers will not be as bleak as the current and previous budget projections.

“We always capture savings at the end of the year, the question is do we recognize it now or wait until we close the books,” Dill said. “We took the most cautious approach, which was to wait until we close the books to realize those savings.”

Dill would not provide an estimate on how much the deficit would close.

At least one critic of the district’s spending practices in the past said that the projected deficit is still concerning.

Lucile Lynch, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board this fall, criticized incumbents Beth Hergesheimer and Joyce Dallesandro for painting a rosy financial picture to justify the district’s decision in 2016 to give teachers and employees a 12.5 percent pay raise.

During the election, the incumbents touted the previous district year’s budget, which ended in a $4 million surplus.  Lynch said she believed this was disingenuous because the district was already projecting a deficit for the following year.

“It was never mentioned during the election, and now, nine months later, I’m still very concerned, and if you look at the three-year projections, we’re not meeting our reserve policy in two years,” Lynch said.

Lynch is referring to the outlook for the 2017-18 budget, which the board will also discuss on Thursday. Staff is projecting a $7.4 million budget deficit, and a $4.1 million and $2.8 million deficit over the subsequent fiscal years, respectively. The district proposes drawing heavily on its reserves during the next three years. The budget calls for the district to fall below its own reserve policy of 4.5 percent, but still maintains reserve levels above the 3 percent levels mandated by the state.

Despite the projected deficit, the district has not had to issue layoff notices to employees or teachers, largely due to 20 teacher retirements, Dill said.

The school board meets at 6:30 p.m. on June 8 at the district office at 710 Encinitas Blvd.

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