Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am


Economy begins to turn around for Los Altos School District

Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo

Los Altos School District officials are reviewing the costs associated with introducing the full-day kindergarten program, currently offered at Gardner Bullis School, above, at all district schools.

Los Altos School District officials are preparing for the possibility of sunnier days ahead, financially speaking.

Rising property-tax projections and the passage of Proposition 30 may freeze any additional educational cuts, providing a spark of optimism after years of budget tightening.

Randy Kenyon, assistant superintendent for business services, informed the Board of Trustees of potential uses for excess funds, should they begin to trickle in.

“We need to be looking at our current and future obligations and commitments and make sure we begin setting aside funds to meet these commitments and obligations before we start making any new expenditures,” he said.

Spending decisions usually involve a balancing act among competing items in order to provide the “best result,” he added.

Kenyon advised the board to consider retiree health benefits, employee compensation, debt reduction, assets preservation and the expiration of the district’s six-year parcel tax in 2017.

He said it is also important to factor in potential “landmines” such as state budget cuts, pension system funding, possible repeal of flexibility provisions in the state budget and changes in the state funding system.

Prioritizing programs

Trustees identified which programs they wanted to examine for reinstatement down the line – PTA relief, Los Altos Educational Foundation (LAEF) relief, capital needs, employee compensation, increased technology specialist time on campuses and a full-time kindergarten program.

At the Jan. 25 board meeting, Kenyon itemized estimated funding for the programs, including priorities, target costs and timelines for potential goals. Specifics will be discussed at a later date.

• Currently the local PTAs provide nearly $600,000 of the district’s annual budget. The trustees expressed interest in relieving that burden. Kenyon proposed the goal of reducing the PTAs’ contribution to $100,000 by the 2015-2016 school year.

“That will give them the chance at the local level to fund the programs they want to fund,” he said.

• Kenyon shared that LAEF officials have indicated that they would like to decrease their contribution for K-3 classroom-size reduction. The group currently provides $900,000 annually for this purpose.

“This is just a start to the discussion,” he said. “This would allow them to focus most of their fundraising on program enrichment.”

• Trustees also expressed a desire to increase employee compensation to keep pace with inflation. Kenyon said it is difficult to plan ahead in that area, because employee contributions are subject to collective bargaining. He added that an across-the-board increase of 1 percent would cost the district approximately $300,000 annually.

• Another major area that should be addressed is facilities upkeep, Kenyon said. He suggested setting aside approximately $200,000 a year for major maintenance or replacement of facilities.

“Funds are needed to preserve assets and extend useful lives,” he said.

Another facilities goal would be to earmark funds for new portables, Kenyon added. In the past, new-developer fees covered the costs, but recently those fees have proven insufficient. He said the board should consider allocating $300,000 annually for new portables.

• Kenyon said it is a “high priority” of teachers and principals to increase the time technology specialists spend at each school. He recommended upping their time to 30 hours per week at each campus. The board could integrate the specialists’ salaries, approximately $105,000 for this year, in the current year’s budget.

• The trustees inquired about the cost of introducing a full-day kindergarten program in all district schools. Currently, the district offers the program for all schools at one location, Gardner Bullis School.

If the board implements the roll out by the 2014-2015 school year, it would be a one-time cost of $350,000 for additional facilities and an ongoing cost of $230,000 annually for additional staff, Kenyon reported.

Kenyon said the total cost of all the suggested items – PTA relief, LAEF relief, capital needs, employee compensation, increased technology specialist time on campuses and full-time kindergarten program – could run $15 million through 2018. He emphasized that he offered the information for the purpose of encouraging the board to weigh the importance of each goal against its financials impact.

“I want you to begin discussing priorities,” Kenyon told the trustees. “We are going to start planning for next year, and you should consider this information.”

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