Budget hit put off a year

The Chico Unified School District batted around its budget Jan. 28 and came up a beastly $666,000 short.

The special, workshop-type meeting was designed to let trustees know, in detail, how the 2001-02 budget is shaking out in light of Gov. Gray Davis’ intention to cut $850 million mid-year from K-12 schools statewide. Worst case, that would mean $824,000 less than the CUSD was counting on this year.

But Randy Meeker, the CUSD’s business manager, said he doubts the Legislature will OK all the cuts, particularly something called the “mega-item,” which the CUSD has used to help pay transportation costs. Meeker has written out a budget that lets the anticipated $666,000 hit be absorbed by the “undesignated fund balance.” But in 2002-03 and 2003-04, the CUSD would have to eliminate $1.8 million in expenses.

Trying to translate complex budget-speak to laypersons’ terms, the board went through Davis’ proposals, from increasing the revenue limit to taking back a grant ($505,000 in the CUSD) intended to offset increased energy costs. As another example, the federal government has finally kicked down more money for special education—$135 million—but the governor is passing along only $23 million of that and using the rest to “backfill” the state budget, Meeker said.

On the up side, Meeker said, “this year may be the stabilizing year for our ADA.” Schools get money based on average daily attendance, and not only did enrollment not go down this year, there are 194 more students than expected.

Trustee Rick Anderson said that after years of the board’ erring, at staff direction, on the side of conservatism, making cuts and then having money left over at the end of the year, he’s glad to see a different approach.