Long Beach school district facing $5 million budget gap

(Page 2 of 2)

Officials said that, as is the case this year, the proposed tax levy would be used to help reduce the principal the district owes on a $98 million bond that is funding its school-preservation plan, a district-wide initiative to upgrade schools and facilities approved by voters in 2009.

Some of the numbers could change, school officials warned. The city’s tax base could shrink, DeVito said, if property values drop as a result of the storm. If some property values drop and others remain unchanged, residents whose homes are in the latter category will see an increase in their taxes, to make up the difference.

“If you have a pie, and 100 people taking a slice,” he said, “if all of a sudden somebody has a little bit smaller slice and the pie is still the same, somebody has to have more.”

DeVito said that state employees’ and teachers’ retirement costs and health insurance, along with bond payments, will account for roughly $34.5 million of the budget, and are the categories in which there are the largest increases. This year, the district has seen a 44 percent increase in its contribution to the teachers’ retirement system.

“There is very little that we can do to shield ourselves against the increase in [pension contribution],” said Superintendent of Schools David Weiss.

Weiss said that the district stands to lose $320,000 in federal aid amid the ongoing budget turmoil in Washington, money that is earmarked for some of the district’s crucial programs. “That’s a loss that’s directed to remedial programs, special-needs students and students in poverty,” he said.

One audience member asked the board about using reserve funds to fill the gap. Trustees explained that reserve funds are usually allocated for specific uses, and dipping into them for things other than what they are intended for is a bad habit that amounts to “kicking the can down the road.”

“Very often you hear the terms rainy-day funds and reserve funds used synonymously, but it’s not true,” said Weiss. “They’re not free-for-all reserves.”

The next budget presentation is scheduled for the March 12 Board of Education meeting at Long Beach Middle School, at 7:30 p.m.

Page 2 / 2