By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Budget Tops $21M For School District
Placeholder Image
A budget featuring close to $21.2 million in expenditures was approved by a 5-0 vote of the Escalon Unified School District Board at its recent meeting, the figure projected to be the amount needed for the 2010-2011 school year.

New District Superintendent Ron Costa, who officially takes over the post on Thursday, July 1, said district Director of Fiscal Services Kelly Robinson and retired EUSD Superintendent Dave Mantooth worked hard to put the budget together.

The final figure represents about a 6 percent reduction from the current operating budget, which Costa said is attributable to the economy and the slow recovery that is ongoing.

"I think Kelly and Dave did a really good job working with the board," Costa said of preparing the budget.

Bulk of the reduction has come in terms of employee and employee benefits.

"We've reduced 6 percent off our certificated salaries, about 10 percent off classified, which is employees that got laid off or leaving posts vacant, and 4 percent off employee benefits," Costa explained. "Those three items account for 80 to 85 percent of our budget."

Benefit savings range from retirement to disability to worker's comp costs, all of which have been reduced.

Robinson said additional savings will come from not replacing some positions vacated this year through retirements, two at Dent Elementary and one at Collegeville. The posts may be filled by in-district transfers of teachers, but not through new hires.

Also, the retirement of Linda Frontz as Director of Curriculum and Special Education leaves that post vacant and the district is not filling that. The Director of Administrative Services left during the school year and will not be replaced, leaving a couple of administrative posts vacant.

There is an opening for a high school principal, as Joel Johannsen was tapped to fill the vacant post of Assistant District Superintendent. He will be taking on much of the curriculum work that Frontz previously dealt with, in addition to serving as second in command to Costa.

The district is "running lean," Costa said, and he is aware that many people are handling multiple jobs that weren't necessarily in their job description just a few years ago.

The new budget also includes the five furlough days that help reduce expenditure, with bargaining groups agreeing to the loss of the five instructional days during the year.

Administrators, like rank and file, have taken that cut.

"I really believe we shouldn't ask our employees to do something we aren't willing to do," Costa said. "Everybody in the district took five furlough days, everyone from a part-time three-hour a day aide to me, we're all trying to share the pain."

Robinson added that developing the budget has gotten tougher in the past few years.

"It's very difficult," she admitted. "The state makes changes all the time yet we're required to provide a budget by June 3. We're making our best estimates."

She said the district has seen declining enrollment for the past few years, making it tougher, and reserve funds will likely also have to be tapped to take up some slack.

"Continued cuts to revenue, year after year, is what we're seeing," Costa agreed of dealing with the state 'take' and its impact on the local district. "It gets increasingly difficult to find ways to cut and still operate."

Part of the problem also lies in the state funding, which often is late in arriving.

"The state often defers it, so maybe we won't get our March payment until August," he said. "That creates a cash flow issue."

With a million dollar payroll monthly, the district still has to find ways to pay its bills, with our without the state money in hand.

"Trying to manage our cash" is the biggest challenge, he said.

On the positive side, the district may see a slightly larger enrollment figure for the 2010-2011 school year and is involved in a variety of summer improvement projects to prepare for the opening of school in August.

Paving work is being done at Van Allen, Collegeville and El Portal; roofing work at Van Allen, Escalon High School, Dent, the district curriculum office and Collegeville; painting at Vista, Collegeville, El Portal and the curriculum office and every site in the district is doing some replacement of carpeting in selected rooms, done on a rotating basis.

Costa, who joins Escalon from a post at nearby Riverbank Unified School District, said despite the tough times, he is looking forward to leading the district.

"It's challenging times for all districts and we have to look at making effective use of what we have," Costa said. "We're in trying times ... trying to juggle a bunch of balls to keep the district afloat and with the help of the bargaining groups and all the employees, we can do that."