RICHMOND -- With new state funding in the pipeline and an eye on past fiscal troubles, West Contra Costa schools trustees made a goal Wednesday night to maintain 6 percent of their budget in reserves.
The 6 percent threshold, now about $16 million, will give the district leeway against such variables as student enrollment and the percentage of students from low-income families that will determine the amount of funding the district receives from the state.
Other risks to fiscal stability include the potential for changes in state support and the condition of the economy, said Chief Financial Officer Sheri Gamba in delivering an interim report on district finances.
The district should have a $7 million balance on top of a 3 percent reserve of $8.9 million required by state law at the end of the current school year, Gamba said.
"That isn't even one payroll for our district," she told trustees.
That balance would fall to $3.3 million above a $9 million required reserve at the end of 2014-15 if no action is taken, she said.
The vote to set the 6 percent goal was 4-1, with trustee Elaine Merriweather casting the no vote.
"I'm going to vote my conscience for more spending on students," Merriweather said.
The district's balance should grow to more than $17 million at the end of the 2015-16 school year, primarily because of the Local Control Funding Formula, which grants more state funding for districts with high percentages of minority, low-income and foster youth students.
However, Gamba said that estimate does not include the costs that year for district goals such as further reducing class sizes in kindergarten through the third grades; implementing transitional kindergarten, a program that serves as a bridge between preschool and kindergarten; and other proposed spending.
Trustees also voted to approve a plan to expand classroom technology beginning this fall through the end of the 2016-17 school year.
The plan calls for spending nearly $7.3 million next year to provide students with tablet computers for use at school; installing Wi-Fi connections in schools that do not already have them; and providing teachers with multimedia teaching tools, among other upgrades.
About $5.7 million will come from the district's bond program, which is normally used to build new schools.
The technology upgrades are "eating up more (bond) money than originally planned," said board President Charles Ramsey in calling for caution about expenses that might affect school construction.
Ramsey also suggested providing more help to Pinole and San Pablo to pay for school resource officers, police officers who serve on middle and high school campuses.
Pinole pays for one of its three officers and San Pablo receives no district funding for its one officer. In contrast, the district pays the entire cost for El Cerrito's three officers and for eight of nine officers on Richmond campuses.