[KHTS] – One might notice the grass is growing a little longer at Castaic Union school sites.
And next year, there will probably be fewer hands on deck to help around campus.
Castaic education officials know as well as anyone despite Proposition 30 taxing California residents a little bit more in order to fund schools, some smaller, less impoverished school districts actually are seeing less money.
When you add that to an inexplicable 300-student loss in 18 months, you have the makings of a full-on financial crisis for an otherwise fiscally sound district that just weathered a recent, devastating economic downturn relatively unscathed.
While the Castaic Union School District was able to avoid layoffs during the Great Recession — maintaining its point-of-pride 20-to-1 student-teacher ratio in the process — changes in the state’s funding formula, and more significantly, enrollment, have the 2,500-student K-8 district addressing a $4.1 million funding gap, said Superintendent Jim Gibson.
Michele McClowry, a Los Angeles County Office of Education fiscal adviser, is expected to give a report Tuesday, Feb. 3, on what the district is doing to address recent money woes, such as reducing its landscaping costs by $6,000 a month.
The district is holding three public three meetings in the coming months, in addition to an upcoming Feb. 11 wine-tasting fundraiser, to try to raise awareness about the issues.
“Everything helps and a lot of our people are coming to the forefront and saying, ‘How can we help?’” Gibson said, “and there’s the good side of that.”
But he’s also anticipating a lot of tough conversations.
Signs of distress
Gibson has known since before August there were going to be funding concerns, and there was likely little the district could do to prevent them, he said Friday.
The state’s much ballyhooed Local Control Funding Formula, which was meant to increase district disparities statewide in funding and programming, immediately cut about $700,000 from the CUSD budget, Gibson said.
Because the formula is meant to incentivize smaller classroom sizes, providing more money for schools with larger student-teacher ratios, the district immediately saw an out-of-pocket cut of about $480 per student for its roughly 2,500 students for no other reason than it already had small classrooms, Gibson said.
On top of that, there were far fewer pupils in the classrooms. While enrollment has been on the decline for the last 10 years, with the district losing an average of 110 students a year, a good chunk of that has come in the last 18 months, about 300, he added.
The loss of 300 students wasn’t to charter schools, private schools or even out of the county, Gibson said, but reflective of a statewide trend. California is losing residents to the tune of several hundred thousand a year, Gibson said, which he sees evidence of in the form of requests for student transcripts from Texas, Kentucky and beyond.
The loss to schools in the area, regardless of public or private, is negligible, Gibson said.
Working on a fiscal solution
In August, when it appeared as though the district’s budget would have a “negative certification,” a Los Angeles County Office of Education fiscal adviser was brought in to help with corrective measures and provide oversight, Gibson said.
The attempts being discussed are numerous and painful, he lamented, but necessary to keep the district viable.
The district announced the intended layoff of 23 classified employees — most of them part-time workers, such as janitors and classroom aides.
Those cuts, which are expected to be finalized in March, includes two custodians, four library tech aides, a reduction of hours for lunch-time duty and, in some cases, changing schedules, represented a significant savings.
However, more cuts were necessary.
There also been the discussion of a 10 percent districtwide salary reduction for staff, Gibson said, which has not yet been agreed upon by union representatives or the district’s governing board.
The plan was discussed in an open board meeting, but the first of several public meetings is planned for Tuesday, Feb. 3, when the negotiations with teacher representatives are expected to begin in earnest in closed session.
Most of the discussion at that meeting would be in closed session, Gibson said, however, the results will be discussed at the other meetings.