Soquel Union Elementary District mulls proposed cuts

Santa Cruz Sentinel

Despite hearing that potential cuts to the Soquel Union Elementary School District budget could cut deeper than expected under Gov. Jerry Brown’s most recent budget proposal, Superintendent Henry Castaniada said the district will continue to move forward on new initiatives in the coming year.

“We will never stand still even with the budget decisions we have to make,” he told the board of trustees at a regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday. “We’re looking at new programs in the coming year.”

Castaniada, who has been at the post since May, said the district, like all public schools in California, was facing painful cuts, but the small district which serves about 1,900 students, is working on scenarios to prepare for whatever is on the horizon, he said.

“Unfortunately midyear cuts are reality,” he said. “Eighty-seven percent of our money is tied into people. We have to review all of our cost analyses.”

John Goodell, an independent auditor presenting his report on the last fiscal year, said that although tough times were ahead for everyone, the district was in better shape than most.

One of the biggest challenges is the prevailing uncertainty. The governor’s proposed budget would cut school transportation across the board causing the Soquel district to find another source of revenue, roughly $164,000, to pay for state-mandated transportation of special education students.

The budget would also cut funding for transitional kindergarten programs although it wasn’t clear Wednesday what that would mean for the district.

The governor has proposed a voter tax initiative to offset some state cuts, but if it doesn’t pass in November, districts such as Soquel will have two months to navigate a mid-school-year trigger to cut average daily attendance funding by $370 per student which would mean a $671,000 cut for the Soquel district.

“Come Jan. 1, it gives you two months to figure out how you’re going to survive,” Castaniada said.

Harley Robertson, assistant superintendent, business services, said he was hoping for an initiative that would provide a better rallying point for public school advocates.

“I was hoping for an initiative by Gov. Brown that we could rally around and give you something to support rather than ‘If we don’t vote for this, there will be all these cuts,'” he said. “It incentivizes districts to hold on to resources which is not good for students.”

District programs were being evaluated and Robertson is scheduled to present a more in-depth financial presentation at the next board meeting Feb. 1.

Castaniada, who has been advocating a 21st century education program, a new English Learners program and a stronger focus on getting young children to think about college, urged people to remember the governor’s proposal was not a reality at this point.

“It’s not a crisis in our district,” he said.

This article appears here.


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