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Schools Look for Ways to Meet Budget Shortfall

August 05, 1993|TOMMY LI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THE REGION — Glendale and La Canada school districts will consider digging into their reserves, or making more budget cuts, to meet an expected drop in funding from the state's final 1993-94 spending plan, officials said.

When Gov. Pete Wilson signed the $52.1-billion budget package June 30, school officials say most of the assumptions they made for formulating their respective budgets were correct.

But a key change that officials say they will look at closely throughout the year involves state money from property taxes given to schools for their average daily student attendance, also known as a base revenue limit, which accounts for 94% of the Glendale district's income and 75% of La Canada's.

"Basically, most of the districts are having to adjust their revenue limit and a number of other areas based on the governor's (signed) budget," said Dolores West, who reviews local district budgets for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

School districts should have an idea what changes they will have to make by Aug. 16, when the county's education budget review process ends. Officials will then have another month to resubmit their budgets for final review.

Glendale and La Canada district officials acknowledge that they will have to make revisions.

The Glendale Unified School District's $113-million budget, adopted June 22, had no cuts in services and programs and was mainly considered a status quo package.

La Canada Unified's $17.6-million budget, adopted June 1, included sharp reductions, mainly in the district's special education and maintenance programs.

When both districts' budgets were adopted, officials had anticipated a higher income from the state for average daily student attendance. They were aware that the state would face a shortage of available funds for schools, also called a deficit factor. But they did not expect that their share would drop by as much as 8.14%--the figure agreed upon as part of the 1993-94 state budget.

"We didn't know . . . that the deficit went up (so high)," said Stephen R. Hodgson, the Glendale district's assistant superintendent of business services.

Hodgson assumed that his district would receive $3,106 per student, or $86.9 million based on the district's average enrollment of 28,000.

But the shortage in state money brought that per-student income down by $20, which represents a $560,000 shortfall in the district's budget.

Instead of making cuts, Hodgson thinks that most of the difference could be offset by a $489,000 property tax administration fee the district no longer has to pay this year. The state agreed to exempt schools from the fee, which evolved as part of a $2.6-billion shift in local government funds to schools.

The $71,000 left over can be covered by the $2.6 million Glendale schools have in reserves or other anticipated savings, including an expected increase in state lottery money, district officials say.

Hodgson plans to ask board members to approve amendments to the budget in early fall.

"If you net the pluses and minuses, we came out about what we budgeted," he said.

In La Canada, the district's chief financial officer, Andrew Meyer, had expected to receive $3,296 per student, or $11.5 million from an average student enrollment of 3,500. But because of the shortage in state funds, that amount will drop by $10 a student--leaving a $35,000 difference.

Meyer thinks that his district faces a tougher challenge in trying to compensate for the shortfall.

Before California's budget was approved, the La Canada district had already used $581,375 of its reserves to balance its 1993-94 spending package, leaving only another $32,772 available. This does not take into consideration a state law requiring that a district hold an amount representing 3% of its budget in reserve. For La Canada, that means that $529,013 cannot be touched.

Meyer said that the district has less money to spend mainly because it lost nearly $2 million in state revenue from a special adult education program--Community Integrated Training for Youth. La Canada school officials still oversee special education programs for their students who are 17 and younger.

Since July 1, the adult special education service, which has students from as far away as Ventura County, has expanded to become City Community Services, a nonprofit entity independent of the district. A total of 80 classified employees were transferred to the new organization, saving the district $323,190 in salaries and benefits, Meyer said. No district employees were laid off.

In addition, the district was forced to cut back on meeting a list of 32 regular maintenance items ranging from air-conditioning unit replacements to new carpeting at various campuses as well as the district office.

"We're going to take (only) those projects we have to do, like asbestos abatement," Meyer said. "If a playground was dangerous and a crack was there . . . we'd take care of that."

Throughout the year, La Canada officials will continue to review other possible cuts in expenses ranging from transportation to curriculum program revisions.

Said school board President Carole Siegler: "We have made the cuts and will continue to make the reduction as far away from the kids and the classroom as possible."

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