Students, faculty and staff face cuts of up to $800,000 next academic year, according to budget recommendations proposed by the Carpinteria Unified School District. Superintendent Diana Rigby, stressing the importance of a sound fiscal reserve for the district, lamented the mounting expense of health care and employee pensions, pointing to their “dramatically rising” costs as the linchpin of budget troubles. Rigby’s fiscal concerns are shared by Board President Andy Sheaffer as well as members Jayme Bray and Sally Green, with trustee Rogelio Delgado frequently speaking in opposition.
The largest cut, some $215,000, comes from eliminating a planned curriculum adoption for the elementary language arts and science program. Other cuts include the reduction of daily library hours at Carpinteria High School (CHS) from eight to four, for a savings of $33,000, and combining custodial positions at Canalino and CHS and directing Aliso custodial staff to cover Summerland and the district office. One high school faculty position in social studies will be allowed to lapse, saving more than $130,000, while the hours of some instructional aides will be reduced. Athletics takes a $20,000 hit, and the general fund will cover only 50 percent of the costs of K-8 field trips, the balance to be made up by fundraising.
These cuts will reduce the district’s annual deficit from last year’s $580,000 to just under $70,000. Despite a modest increase in property tax revenues, the district is grappling with a near doubling of pension costs since 2014-15, and a greater than 60 percent increase in mandated special education spending, spending over which it has no control. The constraints imposed by Proposition 13, which drastically limits the ability of cities to accurately appraise property values, make significant increases in revenues extremely difficult. The passage of Measure U has afforded some scope for investing in capital improvements, but is not used for regular employment expenses, which make up the vast majority of district spending. Importantly, none of the district’s budget calculations take into account any cost-of-living adjustments that may be awarded to district employees as a result of collective bargaining.
Union leader Jay Hotchner, president of Carpinteria Association of United School Employees (CAUSE), along with school staff and faculty, have appeared at several board meetings to beseech the council to avoid proposed cuts to custodial and library staff as well as elementary instructional aides. Urging higher spending at the expense of a less solid fiscal reserve, Hotchner has accused the superintendent of “budgetary fear-mongering,” asking “what is the point of all that money we have set aside?” The state of California mandates a minimum 3 percent reserve for Basic Aid districts such as Carpinteria, while the superintendent’s budget proposals maintain a still relatively low 6 percent reserve. Hotchner and others asked why district management positions were not subject to any reductions and demanded student-facing cuts be reduced to an absolute minimum.
Board President Andy Sheaffer responded that “all aspects of the budget were reviewed,” making the point that cuts are necessarily focused on employment expenses because they make up more than 84 percent of district spending. Sheaffer said, “for our district, having a fiscally sustainable reserve... helps to ensure that we have that cushion in the event we encounter unexpected costs that were not figured into the budget,” such as the sharp rise in special education spending. He went on to note that “if we kicked the can (down the road) every year, each subsequent year’s cuts become more severe.” Delgado, on the other hand, argued that “we should not follow the path of other school districts,” claiming the CUSD teachers “do not agree” with proposed spending reductions. The school board held the final vote on budget adoption at its June 25 meeting (after this issue went to press). Look for more school budget coverage at coastalview.com or in next week’s CVN.