Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - January 18, 2008

Editorial

School district braces for state budget cuts

Despite the housing slump and Gov. Schwarzenegger's $14.5-billion budget shortfall that threatens to trim 10 percent from state department budgets, Pleasanton schools are prepared to weather the fiscal storm. Superintendent John Casey said he's bracing for a financial beating, calling the fiscal crisis one of the worst he's seen in his career. Still, advanced planning, a strong reserve and good news last week from the district's demographer position Pleasanton schools better than those in surrounding district or even in much of the state to move into fiscal 2008-09 reasonable unscathed.

With money on hand, expansion projects largely finished and $600,000 set aside for opening Neal Elementary School, which won't happen anytime soon, Casey's cuts to meet any shortfall in state aid will be mostly in travel money, conventions and other expendable services. He also doesn't expect Schwarzenegger to actually take any money away from schools, but the governor has said he won't add any either. That means the $6,300 in state aid for every student enrolled won't change. But the district also won't get the 7 percent in scheduled increased funding to meet costs-of-living increases or another 2 percent in reduced revenue from such sources such s developer fees.

Also good for Pleasanton is a demographer's forecast that while the surging enrollment, particularly at the high school level, is ebbing, there won't be any enrollment decline either. Declining enrollments are especially tough on school districts. Besides losing the vital state aid for each student who's gone, the district still has to pay 100 percent of its ongoing costs to operate the schools, keep classrooms open and meet its teacher union's contractual agreements. In Pleasanton, smaller enrollments allow the district to manage any increases school-by-school with little or no financial impact or changes on programs and the quality of education.

Last week the school board decided to end its ongoing consideration of building a new high school, with the emphasis now on moving some students and classes to different facilities. The demographer's report forecasted a modest drop in the high school enrollment numbers, which could also ease overcrowding and extra services the district pays to accommodate larger student populations. Casey believes there is now enough space to handle increases at the elementary and middle school levels. As enrollment evens out across the district, there's also a better chance at returning enrollment to about 600-650 at the elementary schools and to add new programs, such as a second dual immersion language program like the one at Valley View Elementary.

With enrollment projections stable through 2017, Casey has positioned the district to handle the state's budget crunch this year without the layoffs and program cutbacks neighboring district are considering. It's planning at its best.

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