This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.

March 8

The Mt. Diablo school board held a special meeting earlier this week to prepare for its upcoming budget discussion Monday, where it may need to discuss making cuts in the next three years due to continued deficit-spending.

John Gray, a consultant from School Services of California, gave an interesting presentation comparing districts in Contra Costa County in terms of spending and revenues. The presentation is at www.mdusd.org. Click on "MDUSD School Board Training, March 6."

Gray looked at enrollment growth and decline in the county, which showed that the Liberty Union High School District in Brentwood has grown the most -- about 18 percent from 2006 to 2011 -- while the Antioch Unified District has lost more than 6.5 percent of its students during the same time period. Mt. Diablo's student population has dropped about 2.5 percent, which means its state funding is also declining. If the district's student population falls below 30,000 students, it will have to set aside 3 percent of its budget in reserve, instead of the 2 percent it now sets aside. The district's current enrollment is around 32,000 students.

Gray also showed the difference in state per student funding in Contra Costa districts, with Acalanes at the top of the heap with about $7,319 per student and Moraga at the bottom at $6,050 per student in 2010-11. Mt. Diablo ranked 10th with $6,346 per pupil.

But the total amount of money each district has to spend varies even more, due to parcel taxes, education foundations and large parent donations in the wealthier areas of the county. The Orinda district topped this list, with a whopping $4,111 per student in "other local and prior-year revenue" per student in 2010-11, while Mt. Diablo had the smallest amount, with $408.43 per student. The amounts also vary because high school districts receive more per-student funding than elementary school or K-12 districts.

In comparing teachers and other certificated employees who are not managers, Acalanes spent the most on salaries per student, with $4,387, while John Swett paid the least, at $3,035. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, at $3,534.

When looking at school and district administrator salaries, Canyon spent the most -- at $1,040 per student -- and Brentwood spent the least, or $381 per student. Mt. Diablo ranked 16th in this category, at $412 per student, in part because it is such a large district. Canyon spends more because it only has about 66 students.

Due to the fluctuating state budget, most districts statewide have accumulated large reserve funds, Gray said. This is because they have been bracing themselves for cuts that haven't materialized thanks to the passage of Proposition 30.

Canyon has the highest reserve per student, at $6,496, while Liberty has set aside the least amount per student, at $1,060 in 2010-11, Gray said. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, with a set-aside of $1,795 per student.

All districts must submit their budgets to the County Office of Education this month, certifying whether or not they believe they will be able to pay all their bills in the next three years. When Mt. Diablo prepared its last budget, it projected that it would need to make cuts or raise more revenues in order to meet its financial obligations.

The board expects to review the budget in detail Monday and to approve pink slips for 95 teachers and other certificated employees.

How do you think Mt. Diablo should solve its budget problems?