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OV School Board weighs cuts in face of deficit

April 17, 2012

The Owens Valley school board and administrators will present state budget cut issues in a town meeting held at 6 p.m. this evening in the school’s multi-purpose room. The trustees met last week to begin the process of determining what programs stay and which go. File photo

Decisions faced at the school board workshop held in Independence last Wednesday are being played out across the state. State budget cuts, possible tax initiatives and a complex new funding formula have created a moving target for school districts.
The Owens Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees slogged through a menu of budget reduction considerations April 11 to determine which line items to save. The criteria: those items with the most positive impact on students and the classroom. No firm decisions were made as nearly $40,000 of next year’s deficit is based on worst-case scenarios.
Still on the table is the elimination of one elementary school teaching position which would result in three grade levels in one classroom for grades 3-8. The current enrollment for K-8 is 61; 17 for the high school.
With a projected deficit of $259,448 offset by program reduction costs of $132,701, Camille Cervantes, chief business officer for both the Owens Valley and Lone Pine school districts, presented a list of 13 possible cuts totaling $154,925. That left a proposed budget $28,178 to the plus side, allowing the trustees to pick and choose which of the 13 cuts could be reinstated.
“We’ve been able to provide extras,” said district Superintendent Joel Hampton. “Now, we’re starting to look like the rest of the world. We may not be able to provide those extras in the future without help.”
Nine of the line items were relatively painless cuts: modifying transportation routes, bookkeeping issues with no student impacts, reallocating $44,604 for deferred maintenance back into the General Fund and reducing staff development from two days to one.
Trustees were adamant about saving four of the items with the possibility of turning to the community to maintain the Kids Club, the district’s contribution to the pool, the ski program and the Missoula Children’s Theatre production.
Cecil Faircloth, board clerk, suggested reducing pool costs as well as cutting down the number of ski trips from the current seven and offsetting the $3,100 cost of the Missoula production with fundraising in order to save those programs.
“We couldn’t do without the Kids Club,” was board member Betty Mull’s reaction. Charles James of Healthy Communities of Southern Inyo, the organization that coordinates and partially funds the after-school program, said the homework assistance was the most important aspect of the program and that with more parental and community involvement, some of the costs could be offset.
One source of funds, according to Larry Todd, superintendent of the Lone Pine school district with whom Owens Valley shares business services, is the Inyo County Office of Education.
“They provide services to the districts,” he explained. “We need to tell the county (Office of Education) what we need instead of waiting to be told what programs and services are available. They are our service provider. They should throw money at things that directly impact the kids like the Kids’ Club homework program.”
The uncertainty for the school budget process is the status of what is known as the Gov. Brown tax initiative that would increase the state sales tax and income tax on those earning more than $250,000. If that initiative, or one resembling it, is passed, $370 for each student will be returned to school budgets in the form of Average Daily Attendance funds. For the Owens Valley district, that would add $26,988 to the 2011-12 budget.
Roughly 5 percent of the $259,448 projected deficit, or $10,535, is the loss of state funding for home-to- school transportation. “We have no answer from the current budget,” said Cervantes, “so we have to assume it’s gone. We’ll know more by the May (board) meeting.”
The community will be involved in the process through a Town Meeting held in Independence today from 6-7 p.m. at the school’s multi-purpose room.

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