District delivers final financials for 2011-2012

District delivers final financials for 2011-2012

Michele Ellson

When all is said and done, Alameda Unified will have about $1.3 million less in the bank at the close of its books for the 2011-2012 school year than it did when the year started, unaudited financials presented to the Board of Education on Tuesday show, though the district has far more cash in hand than is legally required. But the school district could be looking at fresh cuts in the future if voters reject state ballot measures that would raise taxes to fund schools, its top business official said.

The district had a total fund balance of $16.2 million when it closed its books on June 30, the financial report shows, though that amount will drop by $2.5 million after the district pays for a list of things the school board approved last year but which the district hasn’t paid for yet. It’s a list that includes money to fund innovative and magnet school programs, a district office move, a new attendance system, books and a one-time raise for non-teaching staff, among other things.

All told, the district took in $87.7 million last year and spent $83.3 million, not including the spending that was approved but has not yet occurred. A little more than half of the fund balance, about $8.7 million, is set aside in a special reserve fund. The school district is legally required to maintain 3 percent of its budget in a reserve for economic uncertainties, and board policy requires the district to maintain enough money to cover a month’s worth of payroll, Shemwell said.

“That reserve balance is what’s going to keep us positive in the outlying years,” he said.

But Shemwell said that the state still owes Alameda Unified more than $20 million in 2011-2012 funding, having essentially offered the district, like every other one in the state, an IOU for future payment in place of the cash the state typically provides on a proscribed schedule.

“That comes in doses throughout the year. And they keep changing that,” Shemwell said of the money the state owes.

The district’s budget projections show Alameda Unified’s finances in the red by next year, though the projections subtract Measure A expenses without including the money available to pay those expenses. Even with it, though, Chief Business Office Robert Shemwell said in an earlier interview that he expects schools leaders to be considering $2.7 million in cuts a few years from now if the district’s financial fortunes don’t change.

The district’s projections factor in state funding reductions of $457 per student that Alameda Unified would face if voters reject both Proposition 30 and Proposition 38, which would raise taxes to fund schools, staffers from the district’s business office said.

Even if the taxes do pass, the district won’t receive the same funding it got in 2007-2008, which the district sees as a baseline, Shemwell said, and he said he anticipates some more bad news potentially as the state’s finances continue to suffer.

The numbers come as school districts across Alameda County and the Bay Area continue to cut programs and juggle funds in order to manage budgets in an era of declining state funding and deferral of state money until long after the bills it was supposed to pay for have come due.

Oakland Unified, for example, had $9 million in cash left over at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, its unaudited year-end financials show, and $12.3 million in a mandated reserve fund. But that’s after borrowing $45 million from Alameda County to help balance the school district’s books.

Fremont Unified made $3.7 million in spending cuts and revenue shifts and enhancements last May in order to reduce that district’s deficit spending for the year from $8.3 million, leaving it with $25.8 million or 10.14 percent of its budget in reserve, while Albany Unified moved money from a fund for strategic planning into its fund balance, giving that district, which spent $110,577 more than it took in last year, an 18.7 percent reserve.

Alameda Unified has taken short-term loans to cover its bills in the past as the state, which provides about two-thirds of the district’s money, deferred payments to this and every other district in the state. The district borrowed from other internal funds to cover its payroll and other bills this year – which is something the state is temporarily allowing school districts to do as it cuts and defers funds – but will explore additional bank loans in the future, Shemwell said.

Still, the district has not enacted mass layoffs, cut programs or raised class sizes further since the Measure A parcel tax passed.

In other business, the district appears set to serve close to 200 additional students this year, with the district serving 9,017 students as of the 10th day of school. The biggest gain took place in the Island’s elementary schools, which have added 150 students so far this year.

The new Maya Lin magnet school is serving 36 more students than it did last year, the district’s numbers show, and Edison, Haight, Lum, Otis and Ruby Bridges also added students. Lincoln Middle School is serving 22 more students even as dozens of sixth graders have enrolled at Bay Farm Elementary, while Wood Middle School’s enrollment has declined by 45 students. Enrollment topped 1,000 at Encinal High School while it dropped by 17 students at Alameda High.

The district will update its enrollment figures after the 20th day of school has passed.


Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Wed, Sep 12, 2012

I can understand the AUSD's desire to keep more than the bare minimum on hand in its reserves.

As long as the State of California keeps robbing us (sending IOUs instead of cash, reducing state support, and not knowing where it is going financially, etc.) the district will do well by its students and staff to hang on to every penny it can until the bad news from Sacramento stops coming.

If I were a teacher I would feel pretty good about the AUSD's current fiscal policies: they clearly will protect more teacher and staff jobs and salaries for a longer time when the next nasty and cash-stealing shoe(s) drop(s) in Sacramento.

Submitted by Mike on Wed, Sep 12, 2012


Michele, good article with high fact content.

Jon, I agree that the state of Cal is a basket case, which is at least predicable from a budgeting standpoint.... expect the worst.

Jon, on your comment, "If I were a teacher I would feel pretty good about the AUSD's current fiscal policies," I can't tell if you're kidding or not.

You mean the fiscal policies that rents expensive office space while predicting future shortfalls or the fiscal policies that give Vital & Co. raises, while giving teachers furlough days and more expensive healthcare costs?

I wouldn't expect the teachers of the AUSD to hold a big party for Shemwell, Vital and the board any time soon.