Board Vice President Terry Godfrey expressed concern that unanswered financial questions could affect this scenario, such as the outcome of an initiative on this November's ballot to extend a personal-income-tax increase through Proposition 30. (If this doesn't pass, it could result in million-dollar deficits in future years for the district, according to Chief Budget Officer Cathy Mak).
Godfrey said she would prefer to "take action" in alignment with a less conservative forecast, which would use growth rates slightly below the city's 5 percent range, while being prepared for the third, most conservative scenario.
Board member Ken Dauber supported the most conservative forecast but said what is more important than picking the right scenario is understanding — and taking action on — the budget programs the district now faces.
"I think the real payoff of choosing a scenario is that it tells you what you need to do right now — and they all tell us that we need to make some adjustments to our expenses in order to deal with the uncertainty that's in front of us," Dauber said.
Both Dauber and Melissa Baten Caswell pressed staff to look for cuts that can be made to save money this year, rather than making cuts to address the shortfall over two years, as staff recommended. Both also expressed opposition to staff's proposal to use $1.2 million in general funds that in previous years has been spent on technology updates (bond funds would be used instead for the technology upgrades).
Superintendent Max McGee said staff will present at the board's Sept. 13 meeting a full list of potential areas to cut, in advance of the board's scheduled adoption of the 2016-17 budget at its Sept. 27 meeting. Dauber had requested such a list when the board discussed the budget deficit in July.
On Tuesday, board members, staff and community members continued to disagree over just how urgent a problem the budget shortfall is.
Dauber, for his part, compared the staff's two-year plan to a somewhat toothless commitment to quit smoking: "'I'm going to smoke this year, and next year I'm going to quit smoking,'" he said.
"Until we make a serious commitment to actual spending cuts, talking about cutting spending a year from now isn't really a plan," he added.
McGee, a marathon runner, disagreed, countering with a personally relatable analogy: "The only way you complete a marathon is by telling people you're going to run it ... but you don't run it tomorrow. You take a year to train for it, and then you run it."
Board member Camille Townsend and President Heidi Emberling similarly emphasized being "thoughtful," "deliberative" and "inclusive" rather than urgent.
Parent Ritz Tetzlaff urged the board to incorporate the cost of teacher compensation — which accounts for 85 percent of the school district's expenditures — into its multi-year budget scenarios, which staff has not yet done beyond the 2017-18 year.
Mak said Tuesday that this is because raises are subject to negotiations, which the district will have to reopen in January with its teachers and classified staff unions given the budget shortfall.
"By not forecasting any raises you're delaying the inevitable hard cuts that need to be made today," Tetzlaff told the board.
Tetzlaff, whose guest opinion column on class size in this newspaper propelled the topic to the forefront of board and community conversations during the last school year, was worried that, when faced with hard decisions down the line, commitments like hiring teachers to reduce large classes will fall by the wayside.
Parent and school-board candidate Todd Collins similarly cautioned against assuming no raises, which "amounts to balancing the budget on the backs of the teachers," adding that it "seems like a strategy for a district that is in danger of losing its edge."
"A more sensible approach would be to plan for prudent raises, and then re-size non-teacher expenses to fit what we can afford to spend," Collins said.
There remained no support on the board Tuesday for a proposal Dauber made at a previous meeting to rescind recent raises for senior administrators and managers, which would save the district an estimated $648,000.
Dauber maintained that doing so wouldn't harm the district's quality of services nor its competitive position in the labor market for such positions, but his colleagues argued that it would deal a costly blow to morale throughout the district.
Mak has made several proposals for how to bridge the budget gap this year and next, including tapping into reserves, reallocating professional-development funding and staffing dollars not spent on hiring elementary teachers due to lower-than-anticipated enrollment growth. Some board and community members have voiced concern in previous discussions about dipping into the district's reserves to address what they say is a structural budget problem.
After the board packet was published last week, Mak said her office identified further potential savings for the current year, including about $100,000 that could come from rolling back staffing additions to the district office that the board approved in May.
McGee said the district's leadership team has already "developed a rough idea" of adjustments that can be made in the 2017-18 budget and will be sharing them with school administrators at a meeting next week.
The district also plans to solicit community input at a town hall meeting on the budget on Sept. 7, which will be live streamed online. There will also be a board workshop on the 2017-18 budget on Oct. 18.
Also on Tuesday, the board unanimously adopted a set of goals for the 2016-17 year, which all fall under three categories: high-quality teaching and learning; equity and access; and wellness and safety.
The board also unanimously voted to release $60.3 million in reserve funds set aside for elementary facilities upgrades to support current projects or, potentially, the opening of a new elementary school, staff said Tuesday. The board is scheduled to hear a report on an additional elementary or middle school this year.
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