Members of the Antioch and Byron unified school districts recently breathed a sigh of relief as the Contra Costa County Office of Education gave each a positive certification on the first budget report of the school year.
In late November, the county office issued warnings to five districts – Antioch, Byron, John Swett, Mt. Diablo and West Contra Costa County. Antioch superintendent Donald Gill said the warning didn’t mean a potential takeover from the state, but closer scrutiny from the county.
Gill was happy to get that positive certification from the county, noting that now the district can move forward. “If we can put our budgetary issues to rest, our goal is the social and academic development of our kids,” he said.
The district did receive some federal money, but in order to make ends meet this fiscal year for Antioch, the 18,107-student district made some tough decisions. Gill said the district nixed its travel budget, except for absolutely essential trips. Antioch also closed many portable buildings, moving those students back inside the permanent structure. The district is looking into renting out the portables to provide the district with more cash.
Antioch ended class size reduction in kindergarten through third grade, a move Gill said he did not want to make.
Despite the cuts, the district must still find a way to eliminate about $4 million from each of the next two fiscal years. “Having a positive budget three years out is absolutely critical to our district,” Gill said. “Having a positive multi-year projection gives our community confidence that the fiscal resources that are under the control of the district are in good hands and we’re solvent.”
Byron, a 1,670-student school district with a preschool, two elementary schools and a middle school, used federal money to stop deficit spending and furloughs this year. According to Superintendent Ken Jacopetti, the district received a one-time deal that can’t be counted on again next year. “Early on, basically we were into a mode of deficit spending,” Jacopetti said. “It’s been a struggle for us over the last couple of years.”
The district was able to bring back some staff members, but Jacopetti said those positions will end in June. Byron also requested a helper from the state to make sure the district is financially sound.
However, like Gill, Jacopetti faces tough choices down the road. The Byron superintendent said that next fiscal year, the district projects to spend $545,000 more than it has. The year after that, Byron is projected to spend $685,000 over budget.
Jacopetti fears that things will change for schools all over California once governor-elect Jerry Brown takes office in January and inherits a $25 billion deficit.
“We’ve reduced about everything we could reduce,” Jacopetti said. “We’re just watching the state and our new governor and where things will go.”