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San Carlos Schools January 31, 2010

San Carlos School Board Shifts Focus Back to Budget Woes.

by Chuck Gillooley

It’s All About the Budget.

Now that the exhaustive process of realigning the San Carlos Elementary School boundaries has been completed, the San Carlos School Board must once again return its focus to the challenges of closing its budget deficit — one that seems to keep growing with every passing week.  With continued cuts to education funding at the state level, small towns like San Carlos that rely heavily on state funding are almost resigned to additional cuts in the future.

The District’s budget deficit for next year stands somewhere between $1.6M-$2.2M, depending on how you count it.   That’s a lot of #2 pencils…  There are a number of ideas the District is considering to close this gap, including taking a “fee-for-services” approach to some of the extra-curricular services like after-school and pre-school.  There are other ideas such as re-allocating teacher responsibilities to try to avoid eliminating programs altogether.  Seth Rosenblatt has an excellent summary of these ideas on his blog, so I won’t delve into them here.   I highly recommend reading his most recent post: “Now the Tough Work Begins”.

It’s Not Enough.

At the end of the day, these near-term fixes are only going to get the District so far — it’s pretty clear that programs and teachers will be cut next year in order to get the immediate budget balanced, and that’s going to be a huge blow to San Carlos.   On top of that, IF the District is indeed successful in bridging the current budget gap, this will only get the District back to operating at the mandated 3% reserve level.   So it’s really a just a band-aid fix.

Or,  to use an automobile analogy, we’re running our education on fumes…

Keep Going to the Well?

Historically, the San Carlos School District has been able to deliver an excellent standard of education while still maintaining a healthy reserve level through the tireless support of the San Carlos Educational Foundation (SCEF).   Time and again, the Foundation has stepped in and delivered where the State has fallen short.  But a significant portion of the funds that are raised by the Foundation come from the generous donations from the citizens of San Carlos.  And each year, the Foundation increases the “recommended donation amount” for every family with school-age kids.

But the lingering effects of the prolonged recession is taking its toll on many of the citizens of San Carlos — it’s evident from the unemployment numbers, the recent vote on Measure U, and the increased number of distressed home sales in San Carlos.    Many people are simply hunkering down and hoping for a brighter economy, so contributing money to the schools is no longer an option.    The District can’t simply can’t continue to put the fiscal burden on the backs of the citizens.

Time to Think Outside the Box.

I was encouraged to read that Superintendent Dr. Craig Baker is starting to investigate creative means of raising money for the School District, such as securing grants…because that’s really the future of educational funding.  Some of the most successful (and financially stable) school districts in the area spend considerable time and effort working with local corporations to secure grants, especially in areas like science and math.   After all, we live in the heart of Silicon Valley.   But competition amongst schools is fierce for these grant funds, and it’s even more difficult now as these corporations are forced to deal with their own recession-related problems.

Also, other ideas such as corporate sponsorship (naming rights) and advertising need to be investigated.  It used to be taboo to have a corporate name attached to a school building — now it’s almost a necessity to survive.   And what about advertising?   There are numerous ways (website, yearbooks, district phone directories) where advertising revenue can be gleaned.  Granted, it’s not a huge amount — but every bit helps.

In the end, I agree with Seth’s assertion that the educational process in San Carlos will indeed persevere;  or as he put it, we’ll find a way to “make lemonade from lemons.”  But getting that pitcher of lemonade is going to take some pretty big changes this time around.

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Comments 12
  • For starters, seniors who are currently exempted (by request) from paying the recently passed parcel tax should be required to pay their share. If the situation is so dire, ALL property owners in San Carlos should pay this tax to help sustain the schools as well as our property values.

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  • If you think carefully, the SCEF “donation” is really an indirect voluntary tax. I’d rather see the safety services situation solved first before taxpayers address the schools issue.

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  • Joanne & Chuck,
    It is important to remember that the San Carlos School District and the City are two separate governments. Their budget issues and the city’s budget issues are related due to a down economy but are not connected when it comes to solutions. I can not speak for the Schools but as for the City cuts will have to happen. Our $3.6 million hole can only be solved by raised revenue, lower employee costs, and service cuts. The city is unable to go back to the voters until November 2011 (short of declaring a fiscal emergency which failed in 2008).
    Andy Klein

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    • I disagee in that the solutions are connected. In the end, most San Carlos residents will face the service cuts in both schools and city services. In the end, San Carlos taxpayers will have to bail out both. Those of us with children in schools face both issues. Those in retirement can only relate to the city issue. I can deal with schools suffering a bit, but I can’t deal with reduction of safety services. Those of you who’ve had your doorbell rung at night by creepy looking solicitors know that feeling……

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      • ” I can deal with schools suffering a bit, but I can’t deal with reduction of safety services.”

        I’ve heard this a lot. Where do you think your nurses will come from? Your doctors? Your physical therapists? Your pharmacists?

        They’re all in school *right now*. And if they don’t get a good education, you’ll be suffering.

        Similarly, if you want California’s tax base to be high enough to support safety services, you want Californians to have good educations, so that they can get the high-paying jobs that let them stay in state.

        I won’t even bother with the moral argument –people who were retired helped pay for your education, after all.

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        • That’s because as a nurse and also having an undergraduate degree in the sciences, I can “teach” my kids what they won’t get in school. I’m not the only SC parent able to do that. It’s a short term solution unlike the safety services issue.

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  • While I agree with Andy’s observation that the city and school budget issues are different problems with unique circumstances in each, I think Joanne raises an important point. Specifically, both problems will need to raise revenue as part of the solution. And while there may be some unique revenue sources for each problem, undoubetdly both entities will end up requesting revenue directly from San Carlos residents, one way or another. I think it’s important the city and school district align these independent efforts to ensure they don’t create donor fatigue or pushback from
    overlapping stakeholders.

    Andy-

    From the city perspective, can you provide more context on the fiscal emergency option? I don’t know the context of the 2008 declaration, but I’m curious when it will ever be appropriate to use if now doesn’t qualify. I think there would be great benefit to having something go before the voters earlier than late 2011, as I believe Measure U unfortunately was framed by opponents as a false choice between higher taxes or lower employee costs. Now that we’re staring at very real safety (police & fire) and quality of life (parks & recreation) cuts, I think a fresh revenue generating measure (with appropriate cost cutting
    contingencies in place) would generate a much different reaction from voters.

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  • Let’s expand this topic a bit further. I’m all for enhancing revenue wherever possible, but installing parking meters along Laurel takes away the specialness of San Carlos. I’d rather pay a parcel tax of some amount than feed meters. I’d like the luxury of window shopping or eating in a 2 hour time limit than fishing out coins or a credit card. Or how about the last storm a few weeks ago. Raw sewage overflowing out of the overflow pipes. I was glad when Public Works showed up in less than an hour. That’s the kind of city service that makes me appreciate living in San Carlos. The problem is that there aren’t enough voters showing up at the voting booth. Putting up signs just doesn’t do it. Young San Carlos families, it’s your town! The other problem is that there’s been a lack of transparency along with a lack of judgement in City Hall admininstration. Awarding generous pay raises while fully aware of an impending budget crisis was just stupid. Along came Measure U, and the fiscal conservatives won the day and the rest of us have to suffer the ideologues. For heavens sake, just resign so that we can find better managers and get this city back upright.

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  • JJ-
    In 2008 the city hired a consultant to study the possibility of declaring a fiscal emergency. During this process the city and the consultants made all the required findings to declare a fiscal emergency, and noticed that of most of the cities that had declared a fiscal emergency San Carlos was worse off. Things have only gotten worse since 2008. To declare a fiscal emergency this year, the Council would have to put the item on the agenda, make the findings required by law, then vote unanimously to place a revenue measure on the ballot. The reason the emergency failed in 2008 was the Council voted 4-1. I doubt very highly that we would see a different result if we tried again.

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  • About your fundraising idea — the yearbooks already contain plenty of ads, including ads from local businesses. *They’re used to pay for the yearbook*. I should know — my kid was a yearbook editor a few years back. I’m afraid that orange is squeezed dry.

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