Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
On Tuesday the Manteca Unified School District Board gave its usual reward to its administrative staff for its game of ‘Hide the Money’.
As has been the case for too many budget cycles, hard question were not asked about why the revised budget for our children is projected to deplete this year’s ending reserves from $52 million to $22 million. That is $30 million of additional spending — $20 million is budgeted for increased supplies and services. What a Christmas present for outside suppliers and consultants!
In September $12 million was budgeted for salary increases which were partially offset by revenue increases of $5 million But how can we afford the ongoing salary increases without reducing and then ending deficit spending? The revised budget brought back into this year the eight figure deficits of the past two years and continues them into the next two years when reserves will be the lowest ever at $7 million. At least this 5 year pattern of deficit spending has to stop in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 since our reserves cannot legally go lower than 3%.
MUSD’s reserves peaked at $70 million in FY2013. Unlike most districts, MUSD increased its reserves by $40 million starting in FY2008. In my opinion our reserves thus represent a debt to our students and classroom staff since they paid the price which produced the surplus budgets during the great recession. The price included larger class sizes, laid off staff, frozen salaries and many other sacrifices. These sacrifices do not merit the lump of coal into which ‘Going Digital’ seems to be turning as it takes more and more money and pressure on staff to try to change it into a diamond!
I am in favor of prudent reserves, not too big and not too small. MUSD actually has a policy for such prudent reserves which the Board is allowing its administrative staff to disregard. That may seem nice for now but it will be naughty when a future economic downturn affects revenue.
The policy calls for reserves of about $35 million. That would be a stable foundation for education if the Board learns not to indulge its administrative staff’s other game of ‘budget panic’. Such a panic in FY2003 resulted in the Acorn League being cut to save $250,000. The next year reserves grew by $7 million. Now a restored after school program is on MUSD’s wish list!
Such a panic in FY2009 resulted in a 50% increase to K-3 class sizes to save about $8 million in teacher salaries. The next year reserves grew again by $7 million What an unnecessarily empty stocking for our youngest students and their teachers!
The newly approved budget is not the “firm foundation” of the original budget mentioned in Monday’s Bulletin. Unfortunately for our children, the revised budget represents what the Bulletin highlighted back on Oct. 2, 2014: “Manteca schools byte off more than they can afford”.
I expect the bond markets to react negatively to such a deep cut in reserves. Standard and Poor’s took note in July for the draw down to 12% reserves by revising outlook to negative from stable. MUSD’s Board needs to make a budget list and check it twice to insure that our public dollars are going to our children and staying local. Outside consultants and global corporations do not need our goodwill!