Challenges with state budget | Letter

Last night the school board voted to reduce staffing by over $300,000 to meet the challenge of 20-plus fewer students and fewer dollars from the state next year. The decisions also included lowering salaries for administrators and holding off on filling program requests until the state budget is finalized. In question is over $200,000 in class-size reduction funds. The board members had a thoughtful discussion about the status of the state budget and were able to review detailed spreadsheets provided by the district administrators to see the comparison of fund balances, spending, enrollment, and class-size across the years. The result of the discussion was a consensus to continue to be cautious before making commitments that would put the fund balance at risk.

As a former superintendent and educational consultant for district improvement in Washington, California, Arizona, Mississippi, and Tennessee, I have seen school boards take many different approaches to budget challenges. While I was superintendent in Union City, California in the early 2000s, the district faced similar issues – declining enrollment and the loss of revenue, but pressing needs for critical investments in student learning. Our board and administrators approached budget development with clear budget guidelines and detailed information about how each dollar was spent. In the end, the district was able to make decisions that protected student learning but gave the district a strong financial foundation.

The adoption of the district budget is a crucial responsibility of the school board. They give direction to the superintendent and staff that sets the parameters and priorities for the spending plan. This board is on the right track to put student learning and continuous improvement at the forefront for budget planning….while being ready for any bad news that comes out of Olympia.

Ruth McKenna

Candidate for SJI School District Director 1 in the upcoming Primary Election Aug. 1. She has experience as a teacher, administrator, superintendent, Chief Deputy Superintendent for the California Department of Education, and Director of District Services for WestEd, and education research nonprofit agency. She and her husband have lived on San Juan since 2003.