Proposed Lindbergh cuts include potential loss of 40 positions

Budget reductions to be topic of two workshops.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Proposed budget reductions — including the possible elimination of more than 40 positions — have the potential to dramatically change not only the Lindbergh Schools, “but the nature of the Lindbergh community,” according to Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane.

About 150 proposed budget reductions have been recommended by eight committees charged with reducing the school district’s expenditures by more than $3.9 million.

Each 10-member committee has been meeting since mid-January to formulate a list of potential budget reductions while protecting student achievement.

The roughly 150 cost-cutting recommendations formulated by the eight committees were reviewed last week by a Budget Reduction Oversight Committee — comprised of the chairs and co-chairs of the eight committees — and now will be presented to the Board of Edu-cation for consideration.

The proposed budget reductions for the 2010-2011 school year will be discussed by the Board of Education during two work-shop sessions at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, and at 8 a.m. Saturday, March 6.

Both meetings will take place in the board-room at the Administration Building, 4900 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

The recommended budget reductions run the gamut from utility cuts to the possible elimination of 44 administrative, teaching and classified positions. In addition, nine teachers could be transferred to different teaching positions.

“We could have nine (certified) positions that we would take current staff and transfer them into,” Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Services Rick Francis told the Call. “… If we can save a teacher that’s currently teaching here by moving them, we certainly will.”

Lanane said, “… To the extent we are going to have personnel reductions, we want to give people as much time as possible to find another job. We hate that part of it …

“We have one of the most extensive hiring systems to get the very best people in here, and they come in bright eyed, enthusiastic, and now to have to go and tell any of them: You’re not here next year. Wow — the worst job I’ve had to do in all the time I’ve been here, by far,” said Lanane, who has been with the district since 1993.

Asked how close the recommended reductions come to the $3.9 million goal, Lanane said, “Well, it’s over. The bad news is the goal keeps getting larger. Interest earnings are even worse than I’d ever guessed they would be.”

In addition, district officials are worried about possible reductions in state funding.

“Quite frankly, I think it will take about all of these,” Lanane said, referring to the roughly 150 cost-cutting recommendations.

But the proposed reductions are so severe that in the future some will have to be restored, he added.

“Everything that we’ve ever added budget-wise in this district had a good purpose, but some were not essential. We’re now into essential things. When you talk about classroom teachers, that’s essential. I want the public to understand that if this goes on too long, it has the potential to change not only the Lindbergh Schools, the nature of it, but the nature of the Lindbergh community,” Lanane said. “Lindbergh is Lindbergh because there’s a first-class school district here. That’s eroded a little bit. We don’t have all the resources we need in the long term to maintain that. So we have to at some point get back to that position of having the essential support that we need.

“We’ve gone past that now and this will hurt. And I’m worried. I’m worried about the effects. Will Lindbergh people step up and do more? Oh sure. There’s no doubt. I know our teachers. They’ll say: Well, yeah, we don’t have the new techniques from the math coordinator (a position already eliminated), but we’re going to step up and get them ourselves. But there’s only so much of that they can do …”

Cognizant of the financial difficulty residents and businesses are experiencing, officials pledged in late 2008 not to seek a tax-rate increase for at least 24 months.

Though Lindbergh also faces financial challenges as a result of the current economic recession, the district’s reserves of roughly $24.6 million are the reason why the situation is not a crisis at this point.

The district’s long-range financial plan calls for a planned spend down of those reserves with a deficit-spending cap of $3 million per year. In June, the school board adopted a 2009-2010 operating budget that projected a deficit of $3 million. But a further decline in the assessed value of commercial real estate — including successful appeals by commercial property owners to the county Board of Equalization — in-creased the projected budget deficit for the current school year to roughly $5.1 million.

Officials plan to further utilize district reserves to cover the increased deficit, and projections indicate those reserves will drop to roughly $19.5 million at the end of the current school year. If reserves fall be-low roughly $13 million, the district would have to borrow money to operate.

The district recently conducted groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Concord Elementary School and Early Childhood Education Building that are being constructed as part of a $31 million bond issue approved by voters in November 2008. But Lanane noted that under state law, bond-issue revenue cannot be spent on operating expenses, including salaries.

The chief financial officer believes district officials are taking the appropriate course of action in considering the recommended budget reductions.

“I guess the only thing more irresponsible than doing these really hurtful things would be to not do them because we make these budget reductions so that the longer-term financial support is there because our kids aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “We’re getting more kids, not less. So we have to marshal all our resources in a way that can give us the best program for the longest period of time. And we don’t know when better days are coming. We really don’t know …

“Obviously, we don’t like tax increases. We’ve got the lowest operational rate I know of. There might be some lower in the state. I don’t know where they are, though. I haven’t looked lately … That’s the only place we can look and we know that in times like this, that’s not a reality. We’re going to have that conversation with the community probably later this spring, this summer, this fall to try to gauge their feeling about this.

“And I think the first piece, though, is for us to educate that again a basic change has occurred with the way we’re doing business. It’s not a trimming of the fat,” Lanane said. “It’s a basic hurtful hit that we have taken and they need to know that their local public education system is in need. The citizens at some point are going to have to determine does the character of the Lindbergh community stay as it’s always been — one that values tradition, one that values families and one that values education — or is there something out there that’s signaling a change in that? That’s the final decision that this community is going to have to wrestle with.”