The Trinity Alps Unified School District Board of Trustees had the unpleasant task last week of issuing layoff notices to a few district staff members at Trinity High and Weaverville Elementary schools as next year’s deficit spending projections force cuts to services.

Effective at the end of this fiscal year June 30, the following positions will be laid off: the Director of Facility and Operations, a full-time position; an administrative assistant will be reduced from full-time to half-time; a full-time elementary school counselor; and a reduction in certificated staff for physical education from a 1.0 full-time equivalent to a 0.85 position.

The board action followed personnel discussions held in closed sessions and a public presentation of the district’s current and future budget projections. Input and priorities have also come through several recent public meetings in the process of updating the district’s three-year Local Control and Accountability Plan.

The district’s $10.9 million budget for this 2018/2019 school year was funded by approximately $9.8 million in revenues and $1.1 million in deficit spending, including $847,518 in general fund, unrestricted dollars. The year started with a beginning balance of $1,294,233 and is projected to end with just $129,115 available going into the 2019/20 school year. A deficit of $567,000 is projected for the next school year, 2019/20, if no cuts are made.  

The district has been spending down its reserve funds over the past few years, but still maintains approximately $1.5 million in a reserve that peaked three years ago at more than $2.4 million. District Supt. Jaime Green said the current reserve is only enough to cover two months of payroll if for some reason state payments stopped coming in.

Director of Business Services Cindy Blanchard said the state has been providing new block grants for specific, one-time expenses, “so we have to be careful not to use that for ongoing needs.”

In three-year projections, she said that without reductions, the district’s finances “are good for two years and then we don’t have enough.”

The budget projections prompted Trinity County Schools Supt. Sarah Supahan to note several concerns in “cautiously accepting the first interim report approved by the district’s governing board” and “cautiously” concurring with its positive certification.

In her memo to the Board of Trustees, Supahan noted the district has a structural deficit and a combination of spending down fund balance and deficit spending significantly reduces the general fund balance and reserves over the multi-year projection.

The memo says, “We are concerned that if the deficit spending continues as projected, it could impact the district’s fiscal solvency in subsequent years. The district has included reductions in subsequent years that are not clearly identified, but the district is taking steps to address the deficit spending through the LCAP stakeholder engagement process.”

Other issues noted include a reserve fund that is currently in excess of the minimum required, but will be significantly reduced over the multi-year projection; cafeteria expenses are heavily subsidized by general fund contributions; and there are several other programs requiring contributions of unrestricted funds that could be reviewed for possible savings opportunities.

The district was also advised to continue reviewing strategies to improve attendance because chronic absenteeism is severely impacting revenues at a time when declining enrollment is also looming districtwide. Enrollment is projected to decrease by 32 students from this year to 2020/21. Supt. Green said the district is three years away from having its smallest freshman class in a decade, “which will impact the district for four years.”

State funding for schools is based on average daily attendance, not enrollment, and amounts to $10,241 per student for 180 days of instruction. The average daily attendance at Trinity Alps Unified is down at 93 percent of enrollment. The state average is 96 percent.

“We don’t want kids coming to school sick, but if we could get it up to 96 percent, it would mean $176,555 in revenue,” Blanchard said, adding “it’s not just the money, but about kids learning and not having to repeat lessons.”

Regarding the layoffs and other potential reductions being considered, Supt. Green said, “We can’t go forward if we don’t make cuts. It’s a very tough time and it’s hurt people, but we can’t just keep spending last year’s money. We have to build a budget and stay within it. We are talking about it at LCAP. Anywhere we can cut corners, we need to cut.”

Board Chairman Dan Beans said the board has directed that cuts be looked for “that are as far away from the students as possible.”

To end on a more positive note, Green said the attendance and participation in ongoing LCAP meetings have been “phenomenal. We need to get more parents and students there, but the process has been awesome. If people are frustrated with us, they need to come be part of the solution. It’s been very healthy discussion, and if you’ve missed the first meetings, come now and we’ll catch you up.”

Background information, agendas and minutes from the LCAP meetings are available on the district’s website at www.tausd.org.

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