Running a school system is a bit like running a household.
You have to make sure you’re not constantly spending more money each month than you have coming in as that could lead to depleting savings and then being forced to cut out luxuries and even scale back on basics.
You have to maintain both although it is a tad more challenging when you have 3,100 youths and teens who use everything from bathrooms to classrooms day in and day out that get their fair share of wear and tear.
District Superintendent Ziggy Robeson working in conjunction with the elected school board not only has to run the Ripon Unified as one would an efficient household in terms of budgeting but state law requires that all districts have balanced spending plans covering three years in order for them to maintain local control.
It is against that backdrop —as well as rising costs for everything from electricity to the new minimum wage law — that Ripon Unified is working to prepare a budget for the 2016-2017 school year.
The biggest piece of the budget puzzle in terms of ongoing fiscal impacts is potential compensation increases for the district’s 320 employees.
The district last year provided teachers with 8 percent pay increases — the highest rate of increased pay over a two-year period in San Joaquin County among school districts — after teachers went without raises for a number of years.
The district is currently in negotiations with teachers
The district budget process uses the existing school year spending plan of $30 million as its foundation. The current budget is almost 80 percent dedicated to wages and benefits for school employees. With 150 certified teaching positions, 18 administrators, and 150 classified or support staff Ripon Unified is Ripon’s largest employer.
Robeson noted keeping Ripon Unified on an even keel financially is essential to allowing teachers to not only have the resources they need to educate students but at the same time make sure there is consistencey for students.
Districts that aren’t able to strike a balancing act with adequate reserves by keeping spending in line with revenue often have to resort to layoffs and paring back programs. On the flip side, districts that are stable financially such as neighboring Manteca Unified are able to take steps to enhance classroom teaching with initiative such as its Going Digital effort which cost $30 million to implement — the equivalent of Ripon Unified’s current budget.
“While we recognize the potential uncertainty of the economy and the pending end to supplemental sales tax increases under Proposition 30 (for school financing) as well as the plan for the expanded district commitment as required by the state for employee retirements, we are focused on accomplishing our goals,” Roberson said. “In our efforts to continue to maintain a positive budget in the coming year, our goals include reaching an agreement that provides a reasonable pay increase for the staff, providing and broadening support for student learning initiatives for all students including the purchase of more technology devices, addressing the revisions in the language arts program along with full implementation of the math program with strengthened interventions expanding student services and course offerings at the high school and reducing long-term debt as affected by our general fund.”
Among the board priorities Robeson references are completing deferred maintenance projects, planning for future building needs and addressing growth.
“We look forward to continuing the discussion with our Ripon teachers,” Roberson said.