Education

Sac City Unified board OKs trimming $10M from fiscal gulf. The plan is likely to be rejected again

Sacramento City Unified school board grapples with massive budget shortfall

Parents and school officials discuss the Sacramento City Unified School District’s budget shortfall at a meeting Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. The district has until Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, to submit a revised budget to the county office of education.
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Parents and school officials discuss the Sacramento City Unified School District’s budget shortfall at a meeting Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. The district has until Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, to submit a revised budget to the county office of education.

The Sacramento City Unified School District board voted Thursday to approve a budget with $10 million in cuts knowing that the spending plan will be rejected by the county again, after their previous budget was rejected in August.

Board members voted to cut administrative expenditures, which included discontinuing some vacant positions, but still fell significantly short of clearing the projected $48 million deficit the district will incur by the 2020-21 school year.

The district’s $528 million budget still has to be approved by the Sacramento County Office of Education, which John Quinto, the district’s chief business officer, said was very unlikely.

“I’m here to tell you our budget will not be approved” he told the board at the meeting.

Quinto said the deficit was the result of several factors: some one-time grants expired, health care, pension and other costs went up, and funding for special education programs was underestimated due to a budgeting error.

But the data he presented to the board showed that the district has been facing money management problems for years. During the 2016-17 year, the district’s expenses were greater than its revenues, according to Quinto’s data.

The district’s current unfunded liability for health care costs alone is approximately $770 million, Quinto said, and if nothing is done to balance the budget, he estimates that the district will run out of money by June 30.

Jessie Ryan, president of the board, said that although the district could have made drastic cuts and received county office approval by a Monday deadline, she preferred to make long-term improvements and look for other cost-saving methods before affecting students.

“As has been said tonight, this is a decades-long issue, and will not be resolved with a 30-day quick fix,” Ryan said.

John Borsos, executive director of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said that although the board voted on the revised budget before the county deadline, it could have met the requirements if more significant administrative cuts had been made.

“I think submitting a deficient budget is not meeting the deadline,” Borsos said. “They are conceding they need more time, i.e. not ‘meeting the deadline.’ ”

Quinto’s data showed that 89 cents of every dollar spent in the district goes to salaries and benefits, which he said is high compared to other districts. Only 11 cents go to operational expenses, including equipment, books and supplies.

Amid continued calls from the teachers union to reduce his salary, district Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said that providing “fair and competitive salaries for all of our employees” was important to the district, adding that his $295,000 salary has been consistent for more than three years.

The next step for the district is to determine whether other cost-saving measures exist and negotiate with labor partners, Aguilar said.

He said the district did not yet have a time frame for drafting budget that could meet county requirements, nor did he know where further cuts might be made.

A previous version of this story misstated Aguilar’s salary.

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