Williams teachers on the chopping block School board grappling with large budget deficit

The Williams Unified School District board of trustees may have to make some tough decisions in order to deal with an estimated $700,000 budget shortfall over a two-year period.

Cutting staff is a topic slated for Thursday’s school board meeting, which will be held in the Upper Elementary School’s multi-purpose room, although school officials are also looking at other options.

The board previously discussed the deficit at a special workshop on Nov. 28, and determined the shortage is largely the result of a sharp drop in student enrollment, a gamut of new state laws facing employers in 2018, and the retroactive pay increases given to teachers to keep them from walking off their jobs.

Superintendent Edgar Lampkin said Williams Unified is short $396,298 in the current year’s budget, about half of which ($197,800) is from having less students than what the district anticipated when the school board passed its 2017-2018 budget in the summer of 2016.
The budget is tied to the Local Control Accountability Plan, he said, which matches funding to the actions and services the district provides to improve or increase services for students.

“We receive that funding based on our student enrollment,” Lampkin said. “Last year, we had 1,382 students for the 2016-2017 school year. When we looked at our budget for 2017-2018, we budgeted for 1,381 students. But in this year’s enrollment, we’re down 23 students.”

Williams Unified actually had 16 less kindergarten-through-third grade students this year and 17 less fourth- through sixth-grade students than what the school board anticipated when the budget was approved, but had nine additional students at the high school.
The school district is also grappling with the retroactive increase in salaries for certificated teachers.

Despite the budget deficit, the school board, in November, bumped health and wellness benefits and other compensation for teachers in order to keep them from striking, after a bitter year of negotiations that began in 2016.

The increase adds about $295,000 to the deficit over a two-year period, Lampkin said.
Officials from the Colusa County Office of Education, who are tasked with reviewing each school district’s budget and determining if they can meet their financial obligations, predicted that Williams Unified would have to make deep cuts this year when they settled the threat of a teachers strike with an increase.

“They will have to make cuts somewhere,” said Gail Osborne, assistant superintendent of business services, at the Nov. 8 meeting of the Colusa County Board of Education.

County officials attribute the widespread teachers strikes and threats of striking this year on the California Teachers Association, which they say encouraged teachers throughout the state to make their demands for additional money before the reality of the LCAP and Local Control Funding Formula’s advanced payment was seen on paper.

Colusa County Superintendent Mike West said advanced funding, and the additional funding to improve services, were given to the school districts up front, creating large reserves that made it appear the districts were getting significantly more money than they did before.

“What the LCAP and LCFF model has done, as we talked about many months ago, and, in fact, years ago, is that it has taken the entire amount of money schools are entitled to and gives it to them right away,” West said. “So, as they are trying to get things in areas for proper expenditure, they see a reserve – because they have no place else to put it – that is inflated. A lot of the groups are seeing the extra money – or the extra money they think the districts have – and are thinking they are not being treated fairly, or that they are not getting their fair share.”

The Williams Unified school board on Thursday will consider options such as cutting two physical education teachers, the music teacher, all 12 paraeducators, and transitional kindergarten.

Part of the deficit should also be absorbed by the reduction in staff development programs and consultants as they run their course, Lampkin said, although the LCAP requires districts to improve services in order to improve educational outcomes for students, not pay the same staff more money to do the same job.

“The intent here is to use our money in a way that is going to give our money a bigger bang for our buck,” Lampkin said.

Under the Local Control Funding Formula, Williams Unified receives $8,688 per student – per year – to improve services for a district that is 92.9 percent Hispanic.

While Williams Unified saw small increments of growth when the district-wide CAASPP scores for 2016-2017 were compared to 2015-2016, Lampkin said it was important for the district to build a foundation to make sure the district meets its educational goals and students do not fall behind. The school board will meet at 6:30 PM on Dec. 14.