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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