Breaking News: San Carlos School District to cut $1.4M from next year’s budget.

November 4, 2009



Hey, while we're on the unpleasant topic of money and budgets, this little nugget of information came to light today:   The San Carlos School District announced on its website this morning that it will be forced to cut $1.4M from the 2010-11 school year budget, with the likelihood that these cuts will extend into the following school year as well.  That's a BIG ouch.  While it's no secret that budget cuts were coming (even with the passage of Measure B) the amount of $1.4M is far greater than the board anticipated…and may likely come with some unpleasant downsides.

What Happened?

According to the SCSD website, there are four contributing factors to the latest budget crisis:

  • Additional cuts from the State of California.
  • Lower enrollment than was projected when the budget was approved in June.
  • Slightly higher staffing costs.
  • Accounting error during the budget process.

The “accounting error” is discussed in much greater detail on the District website, so I won't do it any injustice by trying to explain it here.  But it's worth noting that this “error” accounts for $900K of the projected $1.4M shortfall.   That's no small error.

What's Next?

The District is taking immediate steps to cut costs, both in the current school year and for next year's projections.   This includes possible “targeted staff reductions” which is something they desperately hoped to avoid with the passage of Measure B.    But it's hard to see how that's not going to happen now.

For those of you who are vehemently opposed to increased taxes of any kind, be forewarned that there will be a renewed interest in extending Measure D, the initial School Parcel Tax that was the predecessor to Measure B.    There will likely be more information to come out of the district in the coming months, but one thing is clear — this is a BIG deal, and we haven't seen the other shoe drop yet.

For more information, check out the full story on the District website:  San Carlos School District website.

11/5 Update:  Additional news coverage.

Here's an article in the Daily Journal that picks up a bit more detail on the situation:

Accounting Error Leads to School Budget Loss

(Thanks to blog reader Tom Jones for the tip on this story)


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  1. Bill on November 4, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    Outrageous! Hey, here’s an idea–immediately fire whoever made this $900K mistake and save the district another six-figure salary for an unnecessary and obviously inept bureaucrat. Sadly, will never happen. Good teachers and programs will be cut instead.

  2. Jean on November 5, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Here we go again. Opponents of Measure U will try to sink any kind of parcel tax renewal. This time, working families need to vote and not just be complacent sitting on the soccer/ baseball field every weekend. Measure U lost not on merit but of non-voters.

  3. Heathermom on November 5, 2009 at 2:18 am

    Please, please – if you can and you aren’t doing so already – support your PTA and/or the San Carlos Education Foundation. While you may not support a tax increase you can and should provide whatever direct financial support you are able to to those causes and organizations you believe in. With these organizations you know exactly what you get with your support dollars.

  4. Janice on November 5, 2009 at 5:57 am

    It’s 9:54 PM and kids are still playing a soccer game at Highland Park. Shouldn’t they be in bed getting ready for school tomorrow? No wonder our priorities are so screwed up.

  5. Arundel Mom on November 5, 2009 at 7:34 am

    This is seriously outrageous. Did anyone get real reason why the mistake was made? Was there any clear explanation??? I could not get that from SCEF website.

    Plus, what is the “lower than expected enrollment”? I thought 100 more kindergarten students turned up for enrollment this year than expected.

    We need to get to the bottom of why the mistake was made and how and make the person responsible and make sure this will never happen again, rather than moving on to this “let’s work on this budget problem together” attitude! (which I agree, needs to happen AFTER the problem has been made clear!)

  6. Arn Cenedella on November 5, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Maybe the above is an example of why San Carlos residents OVERWHELMINGLY voted down the Prop U tax increase.
    Perhaps lack of money is not the real problem.
    Perhaps being terribly inefficient and wasteful with the revenues government does receive is the problem.

    If you and I made the same kind of mistake as this accounting error, I supsect we would lose out real estate licenses.

  7. Seth on November 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    I’d like to jump in with a few thoughts here. First, to be clear, Meaure U had nothing to do with the school district. That was a city sales tax measure that was not related to funding schools in any way. Second, although it is certainly an egregious error, it was an error in forecasting and actually didn’t fundamentally change what the District would have had to spend on special education. It essentially just caused us to delay what would have been inevitable cuts (in other words, more cuts would have started earlier this year had the accounting error not been made). But the financial crisis is based on an external element — the dramatic and lowering of funding from the State. And to the question of what (or who) caused the problem, the Superintendent has indeed uncovered the source of the mistake and taken steps to ensure it doesn’t repeat. As to accountability, it would improper (and illegal) to discuss personnel matters of the district in public. So, that is why you won’t see any communication from the District regarding employees. However, Dr. Baker is definitely on top of the situation.

  8. Chuck on November 5, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks, Seth. I figured you would be chiming in at some point 🙂

  9. Abby on November 5, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Hi Chuck!
    Thanks for the blog!
    I read and agree with Janice (above).

    Anyway we can have a blog topic about some of these unsupervised out of control pre-teens in San Carlos? I see them running around causing problems downtown….and then there was the almost fire started by some of them at Central. There is a rough group out there causing a lot of problems. Where is the crackdown? Weren’t the police
    going to start a curfew in San Carlos? Any info you have would be appreciated.

  10. Chuck on November 5, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Hi Abby,

    Thanks for writing in — I’m glad you enjoy the blog.

    You bring up an interesting point, which really becomes a “can of worms” when you mix in the recent Measure U vote. First of all, I don’t think San Carlos is much different than any other town on the Peninsula as far as the situation you described above. No matter what city you go to, you’ll always find some kids running around late and probably getting into a bit of trouble. In fact, I think San Carlos is probably better than most communities in this matter because I sense there’s great parental involvement in the lives of San Carlos kids. That being said, the burden for controlling the situation lies with the parents first, not the San Carlos Police Department. I don’t know why teenagers are running around downtown at all hours of the night. But I do know where MY teenagers are at that hour.

    Regarding the San Carlos Police Department, they are operating on a hairline of a budget. It’s not a big secret that on the typical evening, there are only three officers and a sergeant on duty patrolling ALL of San Carlos. When a drunken fight breaks out at one of our many watering holes, this effectively ties up at least 50% or more of our police resources on a given night. And with the recent failure of Measure U, this problem may only get worse if more cops are cut from the payroll. So enforcing a curfew isn’t feasible, and probably isn’t the right solution in my opinion.

    There’s an outstanding website that’s written by my friend Ken Castle which dives into San Carlos crime and neighborhood issues in much more detail. I highly recommend you read his White Oaks Neighborhood Organization blog if you’re interested in what’s happening related to crime in San Carlos.

    Thanks again for your comments,


  11. Anonymous on November 5, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    I thought long and hard before posting this, but your comment about the police response provoked me.

    Several months ago on a Friday mid morning, I was alone in my house. I heard a noise from the garage and observed someone trying to force a side door open. I immediately called 911. Several minutes went by, and there was no police response. In a panic, I started screaming which scared off the burglar. When did the police car arrive? One and a half hour later. The officer was very apologetic and said due to budget cuts, there was only one patrol car for all of San Carlos for daytime Friday’s.
    I used to be one of those “head stuck in the sand” seniors whose main focus in life was to complain about taxes and wasteful government spending. Not anymore. Yes, we should hold govt. officials accountable, but what we’re doing now is only harming ourselves.
    Only a handful of voters spoke yesterday. The rest are just too apathetic or lazy to see how fast San Carlos is being led by rabble rousers instead of rational thinking humans. I blame the younger families who’ve helped push real estate values upwards for fortunate people like me, but don’t bother to vote and chart a vision for their generation.

  12. Abby on November 5, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Hi Chuck, Thanks for the website. I checked it out but I found no info regarding these preteen gangs. I agree that it is a parent problem… a huge parent problem…but I think that if a police officer stopped by their home…the parental response would be better. I understand that these children come from some socially connected families in San Carlos. I wonder if the response would be so weak if they were from poorer families.

    Sorry, but these gangs effect my desire to support San Carlos businesses and schools more than jaywalkers on Laurel!


  13. Michael on November 5, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Let me just say that without slammimg the person(s) responsible for the $900m error, doesn’t this smell a bit like manipulation of the budget? So it was an “error”…just in time to debate whether we should extend Measure D. Next thing you know we will be hearing about poor Susie and Johnny are the ones that will suffer and the feeble attempts to pull at the voters’ heartstrings.

    I agree with those who think the person responsible should be let go, but we all know this person is probably getting or will get a bonus as well as a raise.

    And if it is not true, I believe I am not alone in my thoughts. I wish I could say I am surprised at this revelation, however sadly, I am not.

  14. JJ on November 5, 2009 at 7:01 pm


    Thanks very much for your thoughtful response. I was hoping you could shed some light on a few additional questions:

    1) I realize the accounting error was a mistake that doesn’t impact what inevitably would have been realized costs. However, wasn’t the projected deficit a consideration when determining the approriate $ amount for Measure S? If the true special education costs were recognized earlier on, would more have been asked for, or was it independently determined that asking for more in Measure S would have been politically impractical?

    2) I also realize that it’s neither allowable nor desirable to pile on the individual(s) responsible for the accounting error. However, can you comment on the apparent lack of safeguards at the time that allow a miscalculation of that magnitude not to be caught? Several communications during the budget discussion specifically praised the savings received from special ed (which is surprising considering special ed costs tend to rise each year)…what new safeguards exist that can provide greater oversight in the future?

    3) From a “looking forward” perspective, can you provide some background on the relationship between SCEF and the district? Specifically, much of the annual $1 million + raised by SCEF goes into the next school budget and when does it make sense to reevaluate the “ideal” reserves of SCEF when the district is eating into its reserves and critical programs are cut?

    Thanks in advance for your insights.

  15. Chuck on November 5, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Hi Abby,

    I don’t think that San Carlos has a “gang” problem, per se, because I don’t think there’s any organization behind what’s been happening (I could be wrong, but the PD would be a better resource in that matter.) Regarding the police response issue, I have a little insight into the Central Middle School issue because my kids attend school there. I think the parents of the kids involved in this incident will disagree with you that social connection had any influence on the police response. From what I gather, the response was quick and very thorough.

  16. Seth on November 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    JJ — all good questions. To answer them in order:
    1) I think you mean Measure B, as Measure S was the earlier measure that failed. In any case, there weren’t strong connections between the amount asked for in the parcel tax and the projected deficit, as Measure B would have only covered about half of then projected deficit anyway. And as a practical matter, the amount asked for was determined by the polling data and what we projected 2/3 of San Carlos voters would support.
    2) I can not speak to the specific financial controls as that is the realm of the Superintendent. However, I can say that our current Superintendent (Dr. Baker) has implemented many new controls which are much more sophisticated than anything done in the past. Keep in mind that this mistake happened before Dr. Baker started.
    3)Although the SCEF is an independent organization (I also used to be on its board), it obviously exists to serve the school district and to fill that funding gap between our needs and the state financing. All of money raised every year by the SCEF gets donated to the district each year, and they have been very good and growing that number each year. But it is no small task. The SCEF has done an absolutely tremendous job, and along with the parcel taxes, has essentially saved our schools. We need to continue to work with them to help them in their mission as much as possible and make sure that we continue to fund the most mission-critical items. I hope that answers your questions.

  17. BA Mom on November 5, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    I don’t think you can compare Measure U to the Measure D school parcel tax renewal. Residents of SC are good about supporting our schools, but don’t necessarily want to support a sales tax increase. Apples and oranges, as the saying goes.
    And do you have some kind of inside information about who didn’t vote? I don’t know how you can make a bottom line statement such as “working families need to vote”.
    We’re a working family, who sit on the sidelines on the weekend….and guess what???? WE VOTE.

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