Once-wealthy school now faces budget cuts to keep its budget balanced

For years it has been one of the wealthiest high schools in the state.

It currently gets more than $26,000 per ADA (average daily attendance), twice what a typical school receives.

That wealth has allowed it to pay top salaries to teachers and staff, provide one of the lowest student-teacher ratios around and spend generously on its students and educational programs.

TUHS, according to one survey comparing it to 17 other school districts of similar size, "has the highest compensation package, high staffing levels and low class size."

But the good times are coming to an end.

Income isn't going up, but its expenses are, and the District Board of Trustees very reluctantly approved a deficit budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Projected budgets for the coming years at the same spending levels would keep the District in deficits, eating into its reserves, which for now are fairly strong.

More budget deficits are projected if cuts aren't made. Current enrollment projections, made in conjunction with the Taft City School District, show enrollment remaining flat for the foreseeable future, making any increases in funding for ADA unlikely.

The District is on a "slippery slope," Board of Trustees President Paul Linder said.

"If we don't change what we are doing now, we are going to be flat broke in five years," Linder said.

Facing these problems, the District hired an outside consultant to conduct an analysis and review of the budget.

Ron Bennett, CEO of School Services of California, presented the results of his review in an hour-long study session followed by a 30 minute question and answer period with the school's teaching and classified staff.

There are multiple reasons for the District's budget problems.

Under the current Local Control Funding Formula instituted several years ago, the District was allowed to stay at its current funding level, which was much higher than the state average.

But its not getting annual cost-of-living increases other schools get and won't, until its funding falls back to the same level as a typical district.

At the same time expenses are rising, and some of the budget assumptions made in recent years just aren't accurate, Bennett said, making the situation appear better than it actually is.

More than half -- 62 percent -- of the District's annual spending is for employee salaries and benefits, but expenditures for those "have been significantly higher than budgeted for the last two years," Bennett said in his report.

They are going to increase, but current projections don't reflect that, he added.

Bennett said the District needs to get a better handle on its finances so it can make the necessary cuts in a timely manner and look at ways to increase its revenues.

"We recommend the District implement procedures to review and analyze enrollment, ADA and actuals against the budget on a monthly basis and then make budget revisions throughout the year to minimize year-end surprises and improve budget controls."

Bennett offered some cautious optimism that the problems could be mitigated if the District acts.

"You are not in a terrible position. You have some hard work to do," he said. "This is not a disaster but it is a situation that mandates early attention so it is still manageable."

Layoffs were not discussed, but cutting some positions through attrition were.

Cuts in other areas may mitigate that threat, but for Taft Union High School, its going to be about learning to get by with less.

"We are starting on a journey," Supt. Blanca Cavazos said.