By Leslie DeRose and Jeff Ursino
The worldwide fiscal crisis has been a seemingly endless storm for most businesses in the Pajaro Valley. We in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District have certainly witnessed our share of rough seas. But even though we’ve been forced to cut a staggering $18.5 million from our budget since 2008, we remain on a sound fiscal course. That’s because we continue to plan for the worst and make conservative fiscal decisions to protect our students and keep our district strong.
As you may have read, Gov. Brown is planning to put a revenue initiative on the November ballot that would increase funding for public schools. If the initiative fails, the governor has noted that public schools could face another round of cuts. This time, however, it could be huge. For PVUSD, that could mean $8 million in additional ongoing cuts—that’s the equivalent of $455 per student.
The tricky part about this is the cuts could come in December or January. Budget cuts are always difficult, but they’re even harder when they occur mid-year. Unlike a business that can respond to changes in the market on an as-needed basis, once the school year begins and students are in their desks, our budget is set. It’s exceedingly difficult to alter academic programs one they’re up and running. It’s not fair to students or teachers.
This is why we continue to plan for the worst case scenario. We’ve budgeted for this potential. If the cuts do materialize, the district has sufficient reserves to survive next fiscal year. These reserves give the district adequate time to plan and implement state required reductions in a thought-out and strategic manner.
Not all school districts heed to this advice. Many districts have not sufficiently planned for a worst-case contingency. Many more have not been willing to take courageous steps to make reductions early in order to maintain sufficient reserves.
This is never an easy task. The natural inclination is to spend reserved funds on popular programs. But reserves are merely one-time funds meant to provide the district adequate time to plan and react to unforeseen events. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Spending them without a plan for how they will be replenished is fiscal roulette. Over two dozen school districts throughout the state have made this gamble and ended being taken over by state for fiscal mismanagement.
A state takeover is never a good thing. It takes years, even decades, for a school district to fully recover and regain local control. In the meantime, programs are reduced and teachers and staff are often forced to take significant wage and benefit concessions.
We take our role as trustees seriously. Our district is more than a place where students learn. It’s also major employer and service provider in the form of vocational training, migrant education, special education, health services, counseling, childcare and nutrition services. A financial meltdown in our district would be devastating for the communities we serve. We can’t let that happen.
Prudent fiscal decisions and careful management of district finances is the best way to protect our district from unexpected financial storms. It is also the best way to provide our students with the best education possible. We must remember the examples of the past.
Keeping the right course in the midst of a big storm is the most difficult of tasks. It takes courage and perseverance. But a school district that lets itself get into fiscal peril ends up hurting its teachers, staff, communities, and most important – its students.
Leslie DeRose and Jeff Ursino are the president and vice president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s board of trustees.