West county high schools

Courtesy Townsy Media

The West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) Board of Trustees gave a new presentation on budget realities, scenarios and next steps during its Nov. 4 town hall regarding its upcoming decision on whether to consolidate Analy, El Molino and Laguna high schools.

The board is hosting another special meeting Friday night, Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. on the district’s options and a timeline for seeking a district parcel tax. The idea sprang from Wednesday’s public comment and the board will discuss the item with Superintendent Toni Beal’s recommendation that the board approves a contract with Isom Advisors to conduct a survey and examine the feasibility of a local parcel tax, the agenda said. 

The Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) needs the board to submit plans to address how they will save or generate $2 million by the 2022-23 school year in its first interim report, which WSCUHSD Chief Business Official Jeff Ogston will deliver Dec. 9, according to Beal.

Ogston’s reporting shows the district operates with a structural deficit of about $1.1 million each year and faces lowering enrollment and attendance leading to chronic financial instability and dwindling electives.

Beal presented a sobering report of four possible scenarios and their repercussions going forward, with the fifth scenario up for discussion Friday night pulled from ideas shared in public comment.

Scenario 1: No consolidation, no budget reduction

Beal described what would happen if the district advanced with no plans to consolidate or make any changes in revenues or expenses. She said the district will become qualified if the board delivers its first interim report at the start of December with no budget cuts or revenue increases planned to address the anticipated $2 million shortfall in the 2022-23 school year.

“A qualified certification means that we may not be able to meet our financial obligations in the current year or two subsequent years,” she said. SCOE would then analyze the budget and formally order a fiscal recovery plan by second interim in March.

If the board continues to make no changes by the second interim, the district will receive a negative certification, meaning it cannot meet its obligations for the current fiscal year or the next and the district loses the ability to borrow money, Beal said

“So, we would not be able to borrow money to cover any of our expenses and we would run out of cash by June of 2022,” she said. “And at that point, when we have run out of cash, which means we won’t be able to pay our bills, we won’t be able to pay the payroll, at that point, we would need to seek a loan from the state because we can no longer borrow money.”

Loans from the state tend to be 20-year loans with interest, Beal said. “So, we’re actually not only borrowing money, we’re increasing our expenditures,” she said.

“And at that point, once you seek a loan from the state, that’s when the state assigns a state administrator to run the district. And the end result is that that is the point that the district loses decision-making power. Now I’m not saying this is going to happen to us, what I’m saying is this would happen if we do nothing, if we make no cuts and we make no additional revenue,” Beal finished.

Scenario 2: No consolidation, budget cuts made

Beal’s second scenario where the board would choose to make budget cuts without consolidating demonstrated how close the district’s financial woes are to scathing the quality of education it can provide.

She said a past superintendent budget committee formed in recent years that developed a worksheet for budget reduction considerations that applied to this year’s cuts in transportation, classified staff, deferral of textbook adoptions and cutting sections of classes, whittling down almost a million of the $1.3 million they set out to save.

Shrinking to a six-period day is the board’s first option to save $1 million in ongoing, year-to-year costs without consolidating, according to the superintendent. She said the board would need to find $600,000 worth of class sections to cut, losing thirty sections and six full-time teachers across the district. First on the chopping block are under-enrolled classes with 25 or fewer students in this year’s class schedule.

“And in all honesty, when we looked at all of these classes, we got to a place where we could not do it.” She said the schools would lose music and art classes, photography, yearbook and even AP and honors classes.

“We would start to get to a place where students [would] be in danger of not being able to take the classes they needed to graduate because we’re at that place in our budget where we have cut just about everything we can cut,” Beal said.

She said the board would then need to identify other areas to cuts to make up what they couldn’t bear to extract from the class schedule, such as sports programs and consolidating Laguna High and the district office onto the El Molino campus with layoffs in administration, classified and counseling staff.

Beal said, “So, if we were to have to cut programs like are listed here, we would lose students and then, of course, we would have to make more cuts. And then as you can tell, that cycle gets worse and worse.”

 

Scenario 3: Wait to consolidate until the 2022-23 school year

The district would still need to make cuts in ongoing costs for the upcoming school year if it chooses to consolidate in the 2022-23 school year, Beal said. The board would have to find reductions of $400,000 continuing in following years for $800,000 in savings by the time the district consolidates in 2022-23, she said

The board would refer to the superintendent’s budget committee proposal to establish the six-period school day with optional zero and seventh periods, dropping 15 of the original 30 under-enrolled course sections to save $300,000. Beal said the 15 least enrolled classes could change depending on student requests next year, but they would be mostly similar like woodshop, AP music theory, orchestra and others.

Beal said the district could reach $400,000 in savings by cutting administrative positions. Consolidating would save $1.27 million across operational costs with one active campus and losing 12 classified positions and some department chair and coach stipends merging staff and combining classes, as well as unifying under one principal.

 

Scenario 4: Consolidation in the 2021-22 school year

Beal said consolidating in the 2021-22 school year would be the only budget reduction the board would need to make to meet the required $2 million savings by the subsequent school year because the district would have an ongoing $1.27 million in savings for both years.

Next steps

“Depending on when the board makes a decision as to whether we should consolidate or not consolidate we have some timelines, some deadlines that we need to observe. And these are layoff notifications,” Beal said. 

If the board does not make a decision by May, it must prepare staff in March 2021 for a no-consolidation scenario. Beal said all certificated and administrative positions that could be laid off in any of the scenarios must receive notice before March 15 to give the teachers of the 30 course sections at risk for cuts time to prepare.

All classified positions that could be impacted must receive notice by March 31 by law and all these positions must receive final notice by May 15 if those cuts are determined.

In the meantime, Beal said, the board has a meeting Nov. 18 to provide staff direction to analyze potential consolidation with a California Environmental Quality Act review and examination of California Department of Education of CDE guidelines for school closure and consolidation or surplus property.

Phil Henderson of Orbach Huff Suarez + Henderson clarified that the district must evaluate the environmental and community impact before deciding whether to consolidate and where and that the CEQA study needs to happen earlier than many other decisions down the line, he said.

Henderson said he wanted to address confusion and concern about the board not yet creating a district advisory committee, or 7-11 committee, which is required by statute when a board decides whether to sell or long-term lease vacated property.

According to Henderson, the board acted within CDE guidelines because the 7-11 committee is intended for community involvement on whether to sell property, a decision farther down the road.

Beal said important upcoming dates are when Ogston presents the first interim budget report Dec. 9 on whether it’s qualified, positive or negative, to then be analyzed by SCOE. The board will integrate its newly elected members Dec. 16, when the board will also set its 2021 board meeting calendar.

 

Community appeals for more time to decide

Community members in attendance expressed more willingness to consolidate the campuses than in previous town halls. Many called on the board to slow down the decision-making that came as such a surprise to parents, while others urged to rip the Band-Aid off.

Michael Ost, parent of an Analy senior, attended to represent the Analy Band Wagon of volunteers supporting the school’s band and orchestra. He said, “After hearing Superintendent Beal’s stark presentation today, the choice we’re hearing for the Analy Band Wagon comes down to either consolidate or lose or gut the band and we choose consolidation.” 

Ost said the proposed delay in decision-making would hurt the program and advocated for consolidation in the 2021-22 school year.

Lauren Keegan, a 2016 Analy graduate, said she also supported consolidation next year, having benefited immensely as a low-income interdistrict transfer from Rohnert Park. “I am so fortunate that Analy and the West Sonoma County Union High School District gave me that experience, and I was in all of those programs that were listed in the thirty sections that were on the chopping block.”

The rivalry between Analy and El Molino schools resurfaced in the comments as some advocated for Analy to be the remaining site and others pointed out the struggles of students traveling far distances from the coast.

Julie McClelland, the El Molino and Analy school librarian, said, “I find that the biases and assumptions by the Analy supporters that the campus to be chosen will be theirs, I wonder if they would be so supportive if consolidation ends up being done at the El Molino campus and would they be so glib if their students had such a long drive.”

“There’s so many great ideas coming out of the parent community right now and a genuine willingness to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” said Lynda Hopkins, Sonoma County 5th District Supervisor.

She said the scenarios presented felt like a failure to plan after voters passed a parcel tax, Measure B, earlier in the year. She said she was not against consolidation, but against rushing it and suggested seeking bridge-funding and working with the state for other funding to examine unifying with other local districts.

Josh Beniston said he sensed that the Forestville community felt the process was rushed and he encouraged the board to not move any faster than consolidating in the 2022-23 school year if it was inevitable because the potential impacts of closure would ripple into the community.

Lily Smedshammer, president the West Sonoma County Teacher’s Association, said calls to delay consolidation to complete a longer CEQA study would push teachers facing preliminary layoff notices in March to other districts.

“They will have to wait for at least four months before finding out if they’ll have the ability to pay their rent and take care of their families. It is torture,” she said. “And for what? A longer version of the study that would have yielded the same results. This is a stall tactic meant to punish the district for consolidating our schools, but the people you are punishing are our teachers.”

(6) comments

MKH

Unfortunately, here was not widespread support of Prop. 15 in Sonoma County. Passage of Prop. 15 could have helped this district and many others in California. Instead we're giving huge tax breaks to people who don't even live in California like Donald Trump and Salma Hayek and her billionaire French husband, who own vineyards in California.We are over taxing our middle and working class people through parcel taxes, sales taxes and bonds. We missed a historic opportunity to fund our schools and local governments at moment when local governments are losing money due to the pandemic and our students need more support, academically, socially and psychologically. If we wanted to help curb California's systemic wealth inequality, we would have funded our public schools and local governments through Prop. 15. We most likely will not have this opportunity in the future and will continue to see a decline in our public education and public infrastructure combined with tax increases on the working and middle classes. Sales tax, parcel tax and bonds eat up a higher percentage of a W2 earners income than tax increases on businesses which can write off the tax increase. If a residential homeowner hits their SALT limit, they can't write off the increase in property tax. Commercial real estate entities can write off all taxes and mortgage interest - they have no limit. If people move out of California with places that have better schools, cheaper housing and lower taxes - it will be because of our collective failure to address this systemic economic inequality. California likes to think of itself as a liberal state but in this last election we didn't pass Prop. 15, which would have funded public schools and the children who attend them which are working and middle class, minority, low-income and rely on public education and we did pass Prop. 22 which undermines basic labor laws and worker's rights. We have the 5th largest economy in the world and 25 other states in US have higher per capita student funding. California is a poster child for income inequality; how liberal is that?

rottenappleranch

Mikel Cook is correct., Wherever a student attends is where the state money goes., That's why all school districts in West County have activity recruited students from the Highway 101 school districts. Another thing about funding not mentioned in this discussion is that the State's Annual COLA to cover rising costs of all operations, including salary increases, is that the actual funds are not usually available until the late winter of the following calendar year. Thus, all school Districts need to have some some so-called excess funding available to cover both any salary increases granted as well as contingency funds for emergencies.

As to the scenarios for consolidation, my past 27 years of experience living here has been annual student declines throughout the county--partially due to fewer births as the average age increases, and partially due to rising costs of living here that deter many families of school age children from moving here. My observation of the 3 consolidation scenarios after the first Zoom Meeting was that there was no consideration of this trend, and thus whatever campus is chosen, some of the new "construction" should probably be adding portables that can be placed more cheaply and either returned or made available to other school districts which have growing student populations.

Finally, being forced to end AP classes could result in fewer students desiring to transfer to WSCUSD, just as would elimination of Music and Art classes. it tcould also result in some local students deciding to transfer to a east County school that offers such classes.

nancyh

Please don't ask taxpayers for yet another parcel tax for schools with shrinking enrollment. Parcel taxes are regressive, levying the same amount on modest houses as luxury estates. How about a parcel taxes for properties assessed at over $2 million? At least the burden would fall on those who are most able to pay.

Montethepoodle

According to Sonoma West Editor Laura Rush on 9/18/2019 in article named Mixed enrollment numbers at west county high schools, the following was reported, "Analy enrollment is up, EL Mo is down and district enrollment is up overall due to transfers from other districts like Santa Rosa and Windsor" and adds further "This year 500 students(more than a quarter of all students in the district) are from other school districts. Inter district transfers provided a rising tide which raised all bots: 396 students from other districts transferred to Analy, while 86 students from other districts transferred from El Molino. "

This argument of lost revenue can easily be resolved by stopping transfers into the district, that we as tax payers are paying for students from Santa Rosa, Windsor and other places. Why is this being avoided in this drive to raise money when the answer is we do not have the students to run 2 high schools. Why is the story not being told except the roll to raise more money to pay for folks not in West Sonoma County?.

mikelcook

My understanding is that schools are paid b y the state for "average daily attendance", so students that transfer in bring funding with them. They also sustain the district's ability to offer classes in the arts that attract transfer students and benefit all students.

Montethepoodle

So then why the parcel taxes and the expenses needed to educate more students. ? Less students mean less cost, one less high school to maintain. As this area as and will become more gentrified the declining enrollment will persist and will resemble Ross in Marin.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.