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Sonora Trustees Trimming Towards A ‘Positive’ Budget Resolution; Measure J Pool Update

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Sonora, CA – Ahead of a short deadline to submit their latest version of a much-trimmed budget, Sonora Union High School District (SUHSD) officials will eyeball it again at their Tuesday meeting.

District Superintendent Pat Chabot shares that plans are on track towards submitting by the March 17 deadline what he and the trustees believe to be a positive second interim budget for County Schools Superintendent Margie Bulkin’s office to examine. Bulkin has legislative authority to either certify it as such within 30 days or, given the progress made in past weeks, possibly maintain it under qualified status while providing further guidance on cost cuts.

Chabot confides that, once they are able to wrangle the budget into positive territory, extreme measures will be necessary to maintain it as such, due to education expenses that continue to rise in the face of uncertain future funding allotments from the state and federal levels. Too, district obligations are on the increase to contribute towards retirement funds and special education programs.

Living In ‘Qualified’ Times?

“We are in very challenging times, economically, and I empathize with their situation due to the…economic forecast in the years to come,” Bulkin comments. “That is why I think I will be in this [enhanced oversight] relationship for a while — with many of the districts — because of the governor’s economic forecasts.”

The goal of the second interim budget is to capture an accurate current snapshot of the district’s revenue and expenditure forecasts for this fiscal year as well as projected plans for the next two.

Specifically, it must demonstrate that the district is able to meet its obligations over the period. This includes maintaining a minimum budget reserve of five percent — roughly $500,000 — for each of those years, or roughly $1.5 million in total.

Wean From Deficit Spending, Cut Payroll 

As previously reported here, over the past several weeks Bulkin, while closely working with the district to get the upper hand over its financial issues, sent Chabot and the board a very detailed letter outlining suggested key areas to target. These included breaking away from deficit spending habits and making much deeper cuts to a payroll increasingly out of balance with current enrollment.

The latest budget notes an 11 percent reduction in certificated personnel for the next fiscal year. The board-approved staffing reduction, included in the district’s fiscal recovery plan submitted last month to Bulkin, eliminated nearly seven certificated positions for the next two fiscal years, one management position, and a plan for reduced work schedules, as reported here.

In the latest budget draft, the ratio of salaries and benefits to total unrestricted expenditures now reads at just under 83 percent for the current fiscal year and under 84 percent for the next two. The almost $1.3 million ending cash balance for the current fiscal year, meets the four percent standard and the current budget projects that it will maintain a five percent reserve over the next two years.

Measure J Facilities Management

How and where it makes its cuts remains up to the district, as Bulkin emphasizes. “They just have to show me that they are able to meet their four percent reserve.” However, in her earlier letter to the board, she expressed concerns over what she saw as a potential lack in the district’s capital maintenance plans for recent and coming major capital improvements under its Measure J funding construction projects, particularly the new pool.

Among other business at the meeting, Superintendent Chabot will provide an update of the pool’s progress, which is the district’s final to-do Measure J improvement. He tells Clarke Broadcasting that it is currently tracking for completion in early August. The deteriorating condition of the existing pool continues to create maintenance challenges and added expenses. He laments, “We hope that it will last through this summer until the new pool is up and running.” As its design is much different than the new pool’s, he maintains it would be impossible to base maintenance costs for the new one by comparing the two. However, he points to technological advancements that may significantly lower the district’s upkeep output for it.

With the new pool in place Chabot projects the Measure J Fund will zero out or perhaps dip slightly into arrears. Qualifying that comment, he adds, “We are still looking at cost savings for some of the pool accessories — we have done a lot of value engineering on that to reduce any of those extra expenses.” Tuesday’s meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Sonora High School library (430 N. Washington St.).