At their March 12 board meeting, trustees of the Galt Joint Union High School District (GJUHSD) approved an early retirement incentive, approved updated policies, approved a block grant for low-performing students, and heard several reports from staff, including an interim budget report.

Chief Business Official Corey Reihl explained to trustees that, according to an employee agreement, every three years the district must offer an early retirement incentive if it shows a cost savings.

According to Reihl, five teachers of nine eligible have accepted the retirement offer. If the retiring teachers are replaced with teachers with some experience, hired at mid-range salaries, the district could see an estimated savings of approximately $200,000.

Trustees approved the retirement offer with a 5-0 vote.

Trustees also approved a one-time block grant to serve low-performing students. Offered by the California Department of Education, the grant will be used to help with professional development for staff that works with students who may be struggling, but are not otherwise identified as low socioeconomic, English language learners or special needs.

“This gives us an additional amount of funding to do some things that we think will benefit every student,” GJUHSD Superintendent William Spalding said at the meeting.

Sean Duncan, director of educational services, told trustees that they will use the grant to help develop a plan on how to meet the needs of teachers, including looking closely at data and using that data to change instruction.

The district stands to receive just over $61,000 in grant monies.

Reihl gave the second interim budget report. Although things looked a little better than the first interim report late last year due to the approved retirement incentive, the report still showed that the district will be deficit spending over the next three years unless something changes.

Reihl said that the biggest change between the first and second interim reports is the average daily attendance (ADA).

“Our attendance is down and our enrollment is declining,” Reihl said.

Reihl said that enrollment is down 12 students since first interim. The district receives approximately $10,000 per student in ADA funding.

Although the state only requires a 3 percent reserve, the district maintains a 5 percent reserve. It is that reserve that will need to be used to offset deficit spending if it continues.

Reihl said that Governor Newsom’s proposed budget offers some relief for the negative effect of CalSters and CalPers; however, since the state budget has not yet passed and the state reported a $2.8 billion shortfall in January, Reihl is hesitant to base the district’s finances on an unpassed promise.

“The other thing that will happen is the May revise from the governor,” Reihl said. “A lot of districts are out there advocating for an increase in the base revenue limit, which would be nice and helpful but, at the same time, if the state’s falling short of some of their revenue forecasts, the odds are there isn’t a whole lot of extra money out there for districts.”

Reihl said that, although GJUHSD is in a better situation than most districts, decisions would still need to be made.

“I’m glad we’re staying on the conservative side,” said Trustee Terry Parker Owning. “It’s nice that we’re planning for the worst but hope for the best and taking it as it comes. I don’t think anyone could foresee an economy of what the state’s going through. We’ve had promises before and it did not come through, so I’m glad we’re taking a realistic approach to the budget.”

Trustee Mark Beck said that the expenditures are exceeding the revenue brought in by ADA.

“The district better hope for the best but plan for the worst,” Beck said. “There are certain districts in the area that are not able to fund particular programs because of a lot of one-time money. Well, we’re getting $10,000 per ADA, which is good, but when you look at the numbers, the expenditures are more than keeping up with the ADA, so if things go backward, then what? That’s a concern.”

Reihl went on to explain that the state has promised to get the funding back to 2007-08 levels, which were at an all time high; however, those levels are not enough.

“We’re there but, at the same time, Pers and Sters was about half of what we’re paying now,” Reihl said. “So yes, we’re at the same as in ‘07, but we have additional costs that we didn’t have back in ‘07 and ‘08. In the end it isn’t the same amount as that time.”

Reihl said that staff plans to look at teacher vacancies.

“If we’re down 70 or 60 kids, the assumption would be we need less staffing if we had fewer students,” Reihl said. “If we have a situation like we have now, if there’s vacancies and we have the opportunity to creatively do something else to still serve our kids, adjust staffing so that we don’t need to use all the positions that we have, we’ll start looking at those things, because we’re looking at the longest recovery period after a economic down turn in history.”

Reihl said staff is also looking at incentive programs to encourage attendance and looking at where students are going when they leave the district.

“It’s been a topic we’ve discussed quite a bit, how can we hold on to those kids,” Reihl said. “[We want to] look at where they’re going and see if there are programs that we can do to capture those students so they don’t leave the district, whether it’s online programs or independent study and things like that, so that way we’re not losing that ADA. It’s huge, every student in ADA is huge.”

Although in a better position than other districts, employee costs take 83 percent of the budget. Spalding said that leaves very little wiggle room.

“I don’t want to paint a lot of gloom and doom, we’re in a far better position than a lot of other districts, we just need to be smart,” Spalding said.

Spalding went on to explain that it gets complicated with decreasing personnel due to declining enrollment.

“When you lose 30 kids, you have to lose a whole lot more teachers … when you’re in a layoff situation, you have to go in reverse seniority so you’re having to lay off less expensive individuals and go deeper to make that happen,” Spalding said. “That’s the piece, when it comes to finance and personnel costs, that a lot of times eludes people. When you’re in a growth mode, few kids in ADA drives the revenue; when you go the opposite way, you have to make deeper cuts to right size your situation around the kids.”

Parker Owning also advised administration to promote the schools.

“I think it would be well worth a little bit of money promoting our schools,” Parker Owning said. “I don’t think we do that enough. We have great programs at all three of our schools, we don’t promote it enough. It’s the best kept secret. I know we’re talking about spending money to save money, but I do think it would be money well spent. That could celebrate the school and get it out there on social media and to our newspapers. Being in real estate, I’m getting a lot of families that are moving from Lodi and Elk Grove, because they’re getting a lot of Stockton and Sacramento moving into their neighborhoods. So we’ve got to celebrate and promote those families and their children, and make sure they bring them to our district and not to a private school.”