The following email was sent to all of the Poway Unified School District Supervisors by Dr. Don Phillips Superintendent of Poway Unified Schools, November 16, 2009. It left me with a very heavy heart. This gentleman is fully focused on his job and what has to follow to accomplish his goals. It is a preview of what the schools in California have to deal with. These problems are not invisible and they are not going away. It is hard to address problems that the general public doesn't fully comprehend. Read and enjoy, it is well written.
As you know very well already, the Poway Unified School District has faced two years of extreme fiscal challenge. The nationwide recession has affected California more than most states and has led to dramatic cuts statewide to K-12 education funding. For the 2008-09 and the current 2009-10 school years, Poway Unified has been faced with budget shortfalls totaling approximately $48 million. To keep our district fiscally solvent, we have made spending reductions totaling over $22 million, meaning real cuts to personnel and programs. In addition to these spending reductions, we have applied one-time federal stimulus funds to balance the general fund, implemented state-approved flexibility transfers of categorical funding, and utilized voluntary salary rollbacks of 2.7% from most district staff members to address the remaining $26 million budget shortfall These strategies have allowed us to minimize class size increases through the retention of teaching positions, maintain programs for students, and retain many support staff positions.
Through it all, we have worked together to provide our students with the very best education possible with fewer resources. Few, if any, districts have had the can-do attitude to make this happen, and I feel honored to serve as superintendent in this amazing organization.
Unfortunately, our financial woes have not gone away, and economic experts are telling us that, while it took two years to reach this point in the recession, it will likely take five years for the economy to fully recover and for state funding to education to return to 2007 levels. Though some economists are declaring the recession has bottomed out, California’s very high jobless rate, the absence of major capital gains taxes on income, and the predictable lag in tax revenue that always follows an economic downturn all suggest a slow rebound for state tax revenue and therefore funding for K-12 public education.
The dismal state economic picture will sadly have an additional impact on the District’s budget for the 2010-11 school year. Our challenge is further compounded by the fact that most of the federal stimulus dollars, as mandated by law, must be spent by 2010. In effect, we are currently spending significantly more than our ongoing revenue would allow, given the use of one-time funding from various sources.
We currently estimate that PUSD will face a budget shortfall of approximately $17 million for the 2010-11 school year. This assumes that we face no additional budget cuts from the state, which is unlikely given that state tax revenues are already falling $5 to $7 billion behind the updated projections for the current fiscal year. The only helpful relief on the horizon is the possibility of a second wave of federal stimulus dollars that could be as much as $2 million, but this is just a possibility at this point.
These state budget cuts and potential loss of one-time federal funds place us in a most challenging position. Our programs for students, and staffing levels that have survived the last two years of cuts, are the highest priorities in our budget. Reducing any of these high priority programs will be most difficult. However, the size of these state cuts requires us to consider options we would never have considered before. We will need to make reductions at every level in the organization, and we will need to explore combinations of very difficult cuts to reach the needed $17 million in reductions.
Finally, as a school community we are going to have to make choices none of us like or feel are best for students. However, I am confident we will get through this period and continue to meet the educational needs of our students in the best way possible.
While it is still early in the 2010-11 budget-building process, the financial picture does appear bleak. I provide this information not to alarm unnecessarily, but to share with you the size of the challenges facing our district and allow time to discuss and think about how we can best meet these challenges as an educational institution.