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Schools Adopt Deficit Budget
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Riverbank Unified School District trustees have adopted a $21.8 million budget for 2012-2013 that shows expenditures exceeding revenues by about $900,000. The vote was 4-1 with trustee Egidio "Jeep" Oliveira opposing the motion for approval.

Interim Superintendent Daryl Camp asked the board to adopt the proposed budget because the document was due before the Office of Education that weekend and staff needed support and time to further analyze the district's fiscal condition and develop a 2013-2014 budget based on the district's mission, values and goals.

Like six other districts within Stanislaus County, Riverbank filed a "qualified" budget plan earlier this year meaning it could not guarantee meeting its financial obligations for the next three fiscal years. The local district also accepted the help of a budget advisor from the county Office of Education.

The 2012-2013 budget "continues our pattern of deficit spending," said district Business Manager Ken Strangfeld. It is based on the assumption the Governor's tax initiatives in November will not pass, which will bring RUSD a decrease of $441 per student in state funding (about $1 million); and also assumes that district enrollment will continue to fall by about 56 students in 2012-2013 and another 35 in the following fiscal year.

The budget does, however, include a reduction in certificated salaries and benefit costs due to resignations and retirements, a cut in classified salaries and benefits due to layoffs, reduction in funds for books and supplies and savings in contractual services and utility costs.

Two retired teachers have not been replaced and a teacher will be hired for Adelante Continuation High School at a lower pay than his predecessor, the assistant superintendent's position has been vacant for nine months, the director of human resources posts has been unfilled for 10 months and the coordinator of maintenance and operations has not been replaced.

By comparison with the 2011-2012 budget year, the district estimates it has saved certificated costs for 2012-13 by $88,500; classified costs by $484,000; benefits for both by $179,000; $154,000 in textbooks and technology and $405,000 in operational expenses and contract services for a total of $1.3 million.

Resident Suzanne Dean spoke from the floor when public comment was invited. Dean asked how long the district had been in deficit spending, how the county's decline in property taxes would affect it, and would the cancellation of redevelopment agencies have any effect on the district. She also criticized some trustees receiving paid health benefits (larger than those of some teachers) from the district and suggested they be cancelled.

Strangfeld noted the district draws more than 62 percent of its revenues from the state in the money allocated for each student, the so called state revenue limit which, in Riverbank's case, amounts to just over $13 million.

He also noted education is a people business and 80 to 86 percent of expenditures go to pay salaries and benefits for staff ranging from teachers and administrators to custodians and office clerks.

Looking to the two budget years following 2012-2013 (school districts are required to prepare budget plans for three fiscal years ahead) Strangfeld said the district still needs cuts to reduce deficit spending.

The district must reduce expenditures by a cumulative $2 million over the next two years; it must maintain a 10 percent reserve to avoid borrowing to meet payroll; the current budget does not provide for potential cuts in busing (threatened but withdrawn for 2012-2013 and other programs; and it makes no provision for cost of living adjustments or raises.