Budget Notebook: Making the most of available resources, IUSD projects positive balances


BY SUPERINTENDENT GWEN E. GROSS, Ph.D.

This week, bands of heavy rain swept over the Irvine Unified School District, and thunder boomed intermittently. Yet rigorous instruction persevered in the dry confines of our classrooms.

Similarly, our district continues to weather the fiscal storm brought on by California’s budget crisis. And while we have certainly felt the tempestuous impacts, we are now in a position to cautiously project positive ending balances for the next two years.

For this we must credit the careful financial stewardship of our Board of Education, the sacrifices of our incredible staff, the generosity of our community and our district’s longstanding efforts to maximize every dollar and to put resources toward results.

Challenges remain, of course, but consider for a moment this fact: IUSD will not have to make additional reductions to declare a “positive” certification on its First Interim Report, which indicates financial health. Not many districts in the state of California can make this claim.

At Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, Assistant Superintendent Lisa Howell broke down the state’s latest budget and its impact on the Irvine Unified School District.

There was some good news in that the state spending plan adopted on Oct. 8 reversed a 3.86 percent cut and a negative cost-of-living adjustment for school districts. And there was bad news, including the governor’s surprising decision to veto critical funding for child care and special education programs.

But what’s most alarming is that the state budget for 2010-11 is built on a fairy tale of revenue assumptions, which will almost certainly turn back into pumpkins after the November election. Indeed, experts are saying that the Legislature’s revenue projections are already lagging, and that means mid-year cuts at the state level are very likely.

Because of this, the Irvine Unified School District’s financial picture is subject to change. But even based on worst-case scenarios, we are still projecting positive ending balances in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Here are just a few reasons why we’re in this unique position:

     • Our Board of Education quickly tapped the brake pedal on expenditures as California’s budget crisis began, enacting budget freezes and reductions that freed up onetime dollars to cushion the impacts.

     • Our staff made tremendous sacrifices, agreeing to four furlough days in 2009-10 and eight this year. This move alone saved IUSD approximately $8.5 million, negating the need for even deeper program reductions.

     • Our Business Services team budgeted proactively and conservatively while closely monitoring developments out of Sacramento.

     • Our administration costs remain extremely low. In fact, since 2003-04, the percentage of central administration expenditures has dropped from 5.25 percent to 3.65 percent. That places our district well below the countywide average.

     • Groups including the Irvine Public Schools Foundation and the City of Irvine stepped in to help fill critical gaps.

     • Our district embarked on an ambitious campaign to conserve energy costs, netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. In addition, IUSD is moving to establish energy-generating solar panels at nearly 20 sites – a move that will conservatively save $8 million over two decades – at no cost to the district.

We know from the headlines that California’s recovery from the Great Recession has been slow, as has the nation’s. Yet Irvine homes are maintaining their values, and the city’s median household income remains stable. This can be attributed in large part to the quality of our schools, which collectively posted a 916 this year on the Academic Performance Index, moving IUSD into a first-place tie for large school districts.

I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating here: Our financial challenges have been great, but the resolve of our community is far greater. Every day, the Irvine Unified School District and its fiscally prudent Board of Education are committed to making the most of our existing resources, investing in programs and services that yield maximum returns for our students. The results speak for themselves.