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Message from the Superintendent: Upcoming Budget Reductions & Process

Posted Date: 1/19/24 (5:30 PM)

Upcoming Budget Reductions & Process
Video & Letter from the Superintendent

Video Message
English
Spanish
 
Dear San Rafael City Schools Community,

The start of the new year is also the time school districts focus on planning for the new school year. A large part of that is reviewing our budget, and I am writing to share that the budget outlook for our district is concerning. I am also sharing some details on how you can learn more and share your input and priorities. The video above [English | Spanish] contains some key information, and you can also read on for more specifics.  

At this time, we are are faced with the reality of having to significantly reduce our budget for both our Elementary School District and High School District for next school year. Despite the serious fiscal challenges coming our way, we remain grounded in and committed to our SRCS core - our values, goals and priorities. We are proud of the great work happening in our schools and classrooms, and we are committed to continuing to focus on our educational priorities. However, our community must collaborate together toward better fiscal health. As we prepare to make hard choices to manage the many competing demands on our resources, we remain committed to providing timely information and opportunities for input.

Background on Our Funding 
Statewide, school districts are impacted by budget challenges and are in similar situations. There are three main factors that are impacting us and many others:

1. State Funding - Our district’s budget, particularly for our Elementary District, primarily looks to the state for funding. California’s revenue stream has recently seen many years of booming, and last year was considered a “bust.” This month, Governor Newsom released his budget proposal that manages the shortfall through a combination of strategies so that schools can continue to implement the state’s priorities of TK, extended learning opportunities, free meals and more. 

However, the biggest impact to our district is that the “cost-of-living adjustment” (COLA) projected has been lowered to below 1 percent; it was initially projected to be about 3.5%. This means that the revenue we receive is not keeping up with the cost of doing business; in fact, our costs significantly outpace COLA. For reference, the COLAs the past three years have averaged nearly 9%.

2. High Student Absenteeism Rates - While the number of students enrolled in our schools has been fairly steady, we are faced with a high number of students missing too much school. This has a significant impact on student learning, as well as our budget: every day a student attends school, the day is counted towards our “Average Daily Attendance” (ADA). For our Elementary School District, ADA drives our state funding. With a current ADA rate of 93%, down from our historical 15-year average of about 96%, we are losing an additional $1.8 million per year in our elementary school district.

3. COVID Relief Dollars Ending - In the years after COVID began, districts benefited from substantial one-time funding to help mitigate the pandemic’s impact. In SRCS, we implemented and enhanced many programs and services, including hiring additional staff. These grants are now sunsetting. We knew that eventually we would have to scale back down, and that time has unfortunately come.  As is common for school districts, our Board has a goal to maintain a reserve of 14% for economic uncertainties, above the 3% state required reserve. If we were only to have the 3% reserve available, and apportionments from the state were halted or deferred, we would only be able to keep the district operating for about three months, and it is only available for one-time use. Currently, our reserves are approximately 11% for ESD and 6% for HSD. 

It is important to distinguish that the bond money we’re using to improve our school facilities by law cannot be spent on operating costs or programs, they can only fund facility upgrades and improvements. 

Looking Ahead to Making Reductions
We have an extremely challenging task ahead of us as we plan for reductions that no one wants to make. As we do so, we are committed to working collaboratively with our community on solutions that help us maintain high-quality educational opportunities for our students as much as possible.

We are looking at all options to reduce the impact on services and staff; to the extent possible, it is a district goal to minimize impacts to classrooms and student learning. However, we are a people organization; our budget is more than 80% people. We are prioritizing making reductions away from the classroom, but by nature of our organization, we will not be able to make the reductions necessary without reducing staff. 

As a district, we are already “tightening the belt” and looking at our budget this current year to make changes to create savings will improve the budget for 2024-25 and beyond. Furthermore, we make our budgets based on all the current information we have and are constantly updating our projections the best we can.  

Next Steps & Timeline: Learn More and Share Input 
We acknowledge that decisions to scale back programs and services will be difficult, but we remain committed to working openly with our SRCS community during this process. We want to work together on solutions that help us maintain high-quality educational opportunities for our students.

Over the next few months, we have opportunities and sessions for the community to learn more as well as provide input. Groups like our Budget Advisory Committees, District Leadership Team, Labor Management Leaders, Superintendent Parent Council have been meeting and will continue 

Want to specifically invite our community to the following to provide input: 
  • Board of Education Meeting Agendized Budget Discussion: Jan. 22, 6 pm, District Office and Zoom [Agenda and Zoom link]
  • Strategic Plan Task Force Info & Input: Jan. 31, 6 pm, District Office
  • DELAC: Feb. 8, 6 pm, Zoom
  • Board of Education Meeting Agendized Budget Discussion: Feb. 12, 6 pm, District Office and Zoom 
Additionally, this fall, we’ve been collecting input from our SRCS community to inform our work in refreshing our strategic plan. The components of our strategic plan serve as foundational elements as we have our next-level conversations about priorities for future budgets.

In order to be prepared for next year and meet the timeline requirements for public school districts, we are planning to take a final list of budget reductions to the Board on Feb. 26 at 6 pm. 

Despite the difficult fiscal challenges coming our way, we will continue to focus on our values of equity, community and joy and work to ensure all students achieve and thrive to their fullest potential.

Sincerely,

Carmen Diaz Ghysels
Superintendent
 
San Rafael City Schools
www.srcs.org  |  communications@srcs.org
310 Nova Albion Way
San Rafael, CA 94903