CONCORD — A state plan to take $4.6 million from the Mt. Diablo school district to offset money received for low-performing schools could mean more budget cuts this year.
In addition, declining enrollment will lead to additional cuts in the next three years, said Dick Nicoll, interim superintendent.
The district hired extra staff members at six schools that receive Quality Education Investment Act funding to fulfill requirements for getting the grants, he said. The grants require smaller class sizes than usual, along with staff development and training aimed at bridging the achievement gap.
"We continued the program in good faith on reliance of the state's representation they would continue to provide the money for it," Nicoll said. "Now, we find ourselves in the predicament of having hired teachers, but not having the money."
He and school leaders statewide hope Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign SB84, which would prevent the state from taking the investment money away until it could provide equal funds from another source, so there would not be a net loss to school districts. There are 482 schools in California that receive $402 million in grants facing the same money situation as Mt. Diablo, said Mark Calonico, who provides program assistance in Northern California.
"If they wind up losing that kind of money," he said, "I think that the districts would really find themselves in quite a financial fix."
Calonico predicted some districts, such as West Contra Costa, might have trouble making payroll. Mt. Diablo also is grappling with other state cuts of $1,422 per student, expected to lower revenues from $6,370 per student to about $4,948.
Combined with the cuts related to the low-performing school grants, the state budget hits are "going to basically destroy the financials of all the districts in the state," Mt. Diablo fiscal services director Brian Richards told the school board last week.
Fewer students than anticipated will erode future funding, making it harder to operate schools at current levels, Nicoll said. Under state law, districts receive money based on current enrollment or the previous year's enrollment, whichever is larger.
For 2009-10, the district is receiving money based on its average daily attendance of about 33,193 last year, down about 161 from its 2008-09 average attendance figure, which was based on attendance two years ago. The average daily attendance is lower than the total enrollment because it does not include days when students are absent.
"Declining enrollment certainly has been an ongoing issue in Mt. Diablo and many other districts," Nicoll said. "The difficulty is it's hard to shrink the support systems as declining enrollment occurs."
For example, if a school's enrollment declines 5 percent, the district cannot cut salaries and facilities expenses such as heating and irrigation by 5 percent, he said.
"Most everything is the same to operate the school," he said, "but we just get less revenue."
This year, enrollment in regular education programs is 2 percent lower than projected, Margot Tobias, director of student services, told the school board Sept. 22. The district expected to see 32,696 students in regular classrooms, but instead it is educating 664 fewer, with enrollment at 32,032 as of Sept. 18.
Enrollment in special education, which costs more to provide, is nearly 4 percent higher than projected, with 1,332 students in self-contained classes or centers — 47 students more than the 1,285 anticipated. The district also provides alternative education to 900 students in programs such as continuation high schools.
Nicoll said the overall decline would likely mean more budget cuts in 2010-11 and 2011-12.