The Coast News Group
Lead Story News Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast News Rancho Santa Fe Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story

Schools feel minimal impact from budget cuts

COAST CITIES — Cuts in the state education budget may be coming fast and furious, but when school resumes this fall, local students will see few, if any, changes as a result.
Superintendents from the three districts serving Solana Beach and Del Mar said they will be doing more with less money, but so far no classes or programs have been eliminated due to lack of funding. In fact, Del Mar Union was the only district to eliminate a position — a part-time art teacher at Ocean Air School.
“Fortunately, we have not had to go to layoff mode,” Solana Beach School District Superintendent Leslie Fausset said. She and Sharon McClain, her Del Mar counterpart, said they do not anticipate any increase in class size, especially in kindergarten through third grade.
Ken Noah, superintendent of San Dieguito Union High School District, said there may be a slight increase in some class sizes. “But we have no idea on the number at this point because the enrollment numbers are still not confirmed,” said Noah, whose district serves students in grades seven through 12.
“Some classes may be eliminated because not enough kids registered,” he said. “People often think it’s because of finances, but that’s not the case here.”
Not all familiar faces will return for the upcoming school year. Together the three districts employed about 55 temporary teachers — those on one-year, no-guarantee contracts — during the 2008-2009 school year. No one knows how many will be called back this fall.
The superintendents said early planning and generous community support allowed them to keep their programs and staff intact.
Del Mar initially issued 52 layoff notices, but McClain said she was able to bring most of those teachers back thanks to the efforts of the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation, which raised $1.3 million.
Del Mar is also looking into possibly closing a school or realigning its attendance boundaries. Despite growth during the past few years, five of the district’s eight schools are now operating at half or two-thirds capacity and enrollment is projected to decline in 2011. A seven-member committee was formed to evaluate each site and recommend the best use of property.
In Solana Beach, Fausset said her district started controlling costs more than a year ago. When support staff such as clerks, secretaries and instructional aides retire or move on, Fausset said she has been “looking cautiously” before filling those positions.
Noah said after losing more than $6 million in funding this year, he was forced to cut $3.5 million in classified and temporary positions and another $3 million from his operating budget. Rather than cut programs, he said he would rather run them with minimal funding so they are intact when the economic situation improves.
Noah said things could get better in the upcoming year because San Dieguito has been reclassified as a basic aid district. Based on average daily attendance, the state determines the revenue limit for each district. If property taxes in the district are less than the revenue limit, the state provides funds to make up the difference. Once the property taxes exceed that limit, the district is reclassified as basic aid and can keep the additional funds.
All elementary schools that feed into SDUHSD are basic aid. Solana Beach serves about 3,000 students in six schools. Enrollment in Del Mar is at about 4,100. San Dieguito, bounded by La Costa Avenue in the north and the 5/805 Interstate split in the south, serves about 12,500 students in 10 schools.
Although things don’t look quite so bad now, with another revised state budget on the way, the superintendents know the cuts aren’t over until the Glee Club sings — or in this case, no longer sings.
“We know there will still be changes,” McClain said. “The uncertainty is so unnerving but we have to move ahead.”
Fausset said her goal is to keep any future cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. “We are working hard to put kids first and make any changes seamless to parents,” she said.