County education officials harbor sincere reservations regarding the San Bruno Park Elementary School District’s ability to meet future financial obligations, according to a recent letter.
To help the district address its variety of struggles, the county plans to assign a financial expert who will oversee spending and also bring in a consultant to conduct a full review of the special education programs, among other efforts.
Following a forensic examination of the district’s books and future obligations, the letter signed by county Superintendent Anne Campbell and shown to the board last week pointed to a potential ongoing deficit threatening the district’s economic health.
“The county office noted material uncertainties that would lead to significant doubt about the district’s ability to continue to meet its financial obligations for the current and subsequent two fiscal years,” according to the letter.
County officials look forward to working alongside district employees to address the budget concerns, according to the report.
“[San Mateo County Office of Education] will work closely with district staff to review the fiscal and budgetary conditions of the district as well as its progress toward fiscal recovery,” according to the letter. “The county superintendent will continue to work closely with the district’s governing board and administration to address its fiscal challenges and further develop plans to restore fiscal solvency.”
Board President John Marinos said he gladly accepts the county’s contribution.
“I’m extremely happy the county is getting involved. I think it’s going to be great. I welcome it. I wish they would have got involved years ago,” he said.
He added he believed the county’s expertise would ultimately result in a rapid resolution of the economic hurdles the district has faced.
“With their help, I’m hoping we can get to a balanced budget much quicker than we would on our own,” he said.
The San Bruno Park Elementary School District has been historically strapped for cash, and recently officials have indicated shrinking student enrollment is the primary cause for financial concern. The struggles have become so severe in recent years teachers have threatened to strike and some officials feared a neighborhood school may be shut down.
District officials have recently backed away from the concern that budget difficulties may result in a campus closure, but classes have been consolidated due to enrollment dips. The decision caused frustration among some parents who feel achievement will further suffer at schools where students are already struggling, as illustrated in the most recent round of standardized testing results.
District officials are in the midst of contract negotiations with staff. County officials believe any final agreement could be affected by the status of the district’s financial struggles.
“It does not appear the district will be able to sustain and meet the costs of any increases in salaries and benefits without making significant reductions in expenditures and/or identifying ongoing revenues to fund any potential compensation increases,” according to the letter.
Should district officials and union representatives strike a labor deal, the agreement will need to be approved by county officials before being implemented, according to the letter.
To address the financial concerns, school officials developed last year a budget management plan designed to improve the district’s financial footing by cutting expenditures and taking in more money than initially anticipated from the state.
But following the examination of the district’s books, county officials found many of those proposed improvements have yet to be put into place, according to the report.
“It is clear the district has not yet implemented the spending reductions and/or revenue augmentation incorporated in the budget action plan by the governing board,” according to the letter.
More spending on special education programming, hiking contributions to staff benefit funds and purchasing new textbooks as well as other instructional materials are among some of the increased expenditures identified in the letter.
According to the county report, the district’s general fund is projected to have $501,282 at the end of the year, and fall into a $935,107 deficit next year, which is expected to grow to $2.69 million the following year. The district is expected to receive about $17 million in revenue with expenditures floating at about $19 million from the current fiscal year over the subsequent two.
“The district’s risk of fiscal insolvency is significant unless immediate actions to address operating deficits are implemented,” according to the letter.
But with county help on the way, Marinos said district officials are on board with accepting the assistance.
“We are glad to have the county involved,” he said. “I think there is nothing but positive that can come from this.”
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