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Review all Alternatives to Budget Reductions

By Tahir Ahad and Kari Sousa - April 10, 2009

Budget reductions are always painful — and they almost always have an adverse impact on the students and their learning.  They are especially hard when they involve the loss of job and livelihood for employees who serve those students.

Therefore, before the administration recommends a reduction in services and a layoff of employees, it must look into all available alternatives and evaluate all options.

Although the conventional wisdom may not find it advisable, the fact is that the public has been generally supportive of educational measures such as an educational parcel tax.  Many districts have been able to have their communities approve parcel tax measures to supplement unrestricted general fund in support of educational and co-curricular programs of the district.

Since many communities across the state now are acutely aware of the inadequacy of K-12 educational funding provided by the state and the federal governments – as well as the drastic reductions needed due to the current state of national economy – local voters are more likely to be sympathetic to a request by a school district for supplemental funding.  Despite the poor economic environments, the California electorate has been favoring school funding both for facilities and operations.

Similarly, communities across the state have benefited from educational foundations and, in may cases, these foundations have been able to help school district avoid draconian budget cuts and preserve vital programs and services.

This may be a good time to ask your community leaders to initiate the process of establishing a foundation. It may also help focus the energy in your community toward a positive goal that is supportive of the district and the children it serves.

All of the available funds, including any one-time funding and reserves should be fully disclosed.  All of the available resources, regardless of the restrictions, should be considered.  "Consideration" of a certain funding source does not mean that it would be used to save jobs and avoid reductions.  It does mean, however, that all possible avenues have been disclosed, explored and evaluated.

Use of one-time funds to design and implement an early retirement incentive and buyout can provide substantial savings in ongoing funds, protect jobs and help avoid layoff of younger, energetic and motivated employees.  Since the federal stimulus funds and sweep of categorical fund balances are likely to provide a rather substantial amount of one-time funding for discretionary use, the opportunity to implement such a retirement plan is ripe.

This is also a time to consider job shares and reduced workload options that might further reduce the need to implement layoffs.  These reduced assignments should always be reviewed to ensure assignments provide maximum benefits to the district and students.  In many cases, the value of the work received from part-time employees exceeds their actual FTE.  Opening the door for employees to volunteer to take part-time assignments might yield a large crop of younger employees willing to take a part-time assignment rather than be laid off.  This also keeps these young energetic staff members in your ranks and eligible for full-time openings as they may occur.

The recently adopted "18-month" state budget provides significant flexibility in the use of categorical funds.  These funds may be already committed to on-going positions and, as a result, may not help in achieving a net saving in jobs.  However, they may be used for more vital and higher priority uses.  In some cases, the funds otherwise committed to a service, which may not be needed any more, or no longer considered high priority, may be used to protect existing jobs and to avoid reductions including layoffs.

Editor's Note: Tahir Ahad is the President, and Kari Sousa is a Director of District Support Services, for educational consulting firm Total School Solutions (TSS)..