Months after facing an impending financial crisis and warnings of insolvency, the Ravenswood City School District based in East Palo Alto is ending the school year with a slightly rosier yet still cautious outlook on its finances.
The school board unanimously approved the 2018-19 budget on Thursday night, which projects a $1 million deficit. Chief Business Official Steve Eichman told the board that he expects the deficit will be mitigated through a variety of one-time sources, including a decrease in staff and a cost-of-living adjustment from the state, that total just over $1 million.
In the 2019-20 school year, the district is projecting a deficit of $337,000 and the following year, a net increase of $224,000.
The board approved more than $5 million in budget cuts in February to remain fiscally solvent. The district's budget woes — caused by years of declining enrollment and a corresponding loss in state revenue, compounded by several years of deficit spending — drew close oversight by the San Mateo County Office of Education, whose superintendent lauded the board on Thursday for taking the steps needed to address the budget crisis.
"Thanks to the very decisive action you've taken as a board as well as certainly with passage of the parcel tax you are absolutely on a very, very good path at this point in time," said county Superintendent Anne Campbell. "You are emerging in a much better place than you were four months ago."
East Palo Alto voters approved a renewed parcel tax and $70 million bond measure earlier this month.
The county Office of Education will be "pulling back," Campbell said — including her and her deputy superintendent no longer attending board meetings and meeting weekly with staff — but will continue to monitor Ravenswood's budget.
Eichman warned that the trends that caused the multiyear shortfall will not go away in the coming years, with enrollment continuing to decline. The district expects to lose another 500 students in the next three years.
For Ravenswood to be able to meet its financial obligations in the 2019-20 and 2020 years, the district will have to cut an additional $1.5 million and $1.7 million from the budget, respectively.
Budget-saving strategies include accurately staffing schools, which have become staff-heavy as student enrollment has declined; "avoiding unsustainable settlements at the bargaining table" and maintaining existing programs before adding new ones, a staff report states.
"I think we have learned our lesson and we're going to be more careful about this budget," said Trustee Marielena Gaona Mendoza before the board cast its vote.
The next school board meeting will be on Thursday, Aug. 9.