San Dieguito approves budget with $7.4 million deficit

At the June 22 San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) board meeting, the district adopted the 2017-18 budget in a 3-1 vote, with John Salazar voting against it (board member Mo Muir was absent from the meeting). The budget reflects revenues of $95.9 million and expenditures of $103 million, representing a $7.4 million deficit. As board members commented, things often look worse at adoption than they are at the end of the year, as the district underestimates on revenue and overestimates on expenditures.

“We do have those carryover types of dollars, we’re pretty conservative and we don’t reflect those at all until they come through and by the time we do we get our first interim actuals and start being able to reflect those, it fills in a lot of those holes,” SDUHSD board member Beth Hergesheimer said, noting that board members are able to feel comfortable about the budget because they have seen that pattern repeat itself over the years.

Salazar was not convinced.

Salazar said last year the district projected a deficit of $9 million and things didn’t materially change for the better — “This year we’re projecting a $7.5 million deficit, maybe things will change, maybe not,” he said.

Salazar said he is asked to vote on the proposed budget, not on more money potentially coming in from state or cutting expenditures. Salazar said in the past programs didn’t get cut because there were “robust” reserves, but he is concerned that the reserves are now in the single digits.

SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill said that the district projects that it will be able to meet the required 3 percent level of reserves over the next three years.

During public comment, parent Beth Westburg questioned how the district plans to increase revenue or decrease expenses in light of the deficit. She also expressed her concerns that the way the budget is structured is “not honest,” noting that the district does not budget all known expenses when they plan to receive donations to cover the cost of a program or item.

“If the deficit is $9 million and you add in $2.5 million from the foundation, the deficit really is $11.2 million. The public needs to know that,” Westburg supplied as an example. “You have to be responsible and tell us exactly what your expenses are because Foundation money is not guaranteed. We need to know how much it costs to run the district.”

Dill said that donation revenue has grown and shrunk over the years. During the recession, the foundations talked about their struggle to receive donations and that meant that both the foundations and the district scaled back on what they were able to offer.

“Through all of that, our foundations never failed to live up to their promises on things they said they would fund,” Dill said. “But we do adjust our expectations based on what the foundations say their willingness and ability is to provide that funding. If the foundation tells us they have no willingness or ability to pay for something then my answer is ‘OK,’ because these are voluntary donations and so we scale back or we fill the gap ourselves.”

Salazar said he had heard a lot that night about money being taken away from athletics and arts and parents having to fill that gap. He said the district is fortunate that parents are very generous.

“This school board decided to spend more money on labor and now I believe we’re spending something in the way of 91 cents out of every dollar, 91 percent of our money goes to all of our employees and their benefits. We could’ve changed that. We could’ve had 85 percent and we could’ve had millions of dollars more to spend on athletics or art or on real classrooms for our special needs kids. We made this decision and we’re making another decision tonight to accept a budget that’s deep in debt.”

“I think we made mistakes a few years ago and it’s going to continue having this deficit until we re-address that problem. I think we’re spending too much money on our labor and we need to adjust it.”