The Lompoc Unified School District board of education adopted a budget last Tuesday that will have the district continuing to operate at a deficit, but also received some good news — a positive outlook on a potential bond measure.
Finances were among the main topics of discussion for the board at the June 27 meeting, which lasted a little more than two hours. Notably, the board voted unanimously to approve the budget for the 2017-18 school year, and received an update from a consulting firm that suggested the district could see favorable results from voters if it were to place another school bond on the 2018 ballot.
John Karbula, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services, initially presented the draft budget to the board June 13. Early in the June 27 meeting, Karbula addressed some concerns about the fact that the budget has LUSD operating at a nearly $2 million deficit for the coming school year.
Karbula pointed to the district’s reserves, which are above the minimum threshold required by the state, as evidence of the district’s financial shape being better than it may seem on the surface. He said that the district is operating under “planned deficit spending,” which he said means that the district knows the areas that need to be addressed.
“We are gonna need to reduce expenses,” Karbula said June 27. “We can’t deficit spend forever, but we certainly have ample time to (make the necessary cuts).”
Part of the reason given by district staff for the deficit is rising costs associated with employee benefits — particularly the California State Teachers' Retirement System, or CalSTRS, and the California Public Employees' Retirement System, CalPERS — and the district’s declining enrollment.
Karbula advocated for the district to move forward with hiring the consulting firm Total School Solutions, at a cost of $15,109, to conduct a districtwide demographic study that Karbula suggested would help the district better identify and plan for future enrollment and staffing issues.
Approval of that contract was included on the consent agenda, which is typically reserved for routine items, but it was pulled by Boardmember Dick Barrett for further discussion. Barrett made the case that the district might be better served to save that $15,109 and utilize district staff to look at demographic trends.
Karbula noted that Total School Solutions would be able to provide more detailed analysis than anyone on staff. After a short discussion, it was suggested by LUSD Superintendent Trevor McDonald that the board table the discussion until September and then possibly revisit it after the district receives its start-of-school enrollment reports.
Barrett made a motion to accept that recommendation and the motion passed 3-2, with Jeff Carlovsky and Bill Heath dissenting.
In an unrelated presentation to the board, Greg Isom, of Isom Advisors, was back to share the results of a recent survey of Lompoc voters regarding a possible school bond.
Isom, whose firm had conducted a similar survey in 2015 ahead of the ultimately failed Measure L2016 on last November’s ballot, said he was personally surprised by some of the positive results of the survey, which was conducted from May 5 to May 23 with phone calls to 400 local voters.
The survey showed that support for a school bond, before any detailed information was provided, was at 62.5 percent. After information was given to the survey respondents, he said that the percentage of people who said they’d vote yes jumped to 64 percent.
Additionally, most of the projects listed as possible beneficiaries of the bond funds — led by the repair or replacement of leaky roofs, upgrades to electrical systems, improving classroom technology, and modernizing classrooms — showed approval ratings above 55 percent.
Isom concluded his presentation by noting that the numbers were favorable for the district, and he recommended that district leaders engage with other stakeholders in the community, provide education to local voters and move forward with a plan to place a bond measure on either the June or November ballot next year.
“As of right now, I would say if the election were held today, you would’ve won,” Isom told the board. “But the elections are in June of ’18 and November of ’18, so there’s a lot of time between now and then to make a decision on what you guys want to do. But, as of right now, I think it would make sense for you guys to continue going down that path and look at something for 2018.”
In separate action June 27, the board also voted 3-2 to approve a revised Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, with the Healthy Lompoc Coalition addressing their joint remodeling of Huyck Stadium.
Among the revisions in the MOU is language that points out that Healthy Lompoc Coalition may receive pledges that are funded over time, not to exceed five years, and not in one lump sum. Boardmember Heath balked at this revision and said it looked to him like the Healthy Lompoc Coalition was being given an out in case it is unable to come up with its half of $2.4 million needed for the project (LUSD has agreed to fund the other half).
Ashley Costa, the executive director of the Lompoc Valley Community Healthcare Organization, which facilitates the Healthy Lompoc Coalition, was at the June 27 meeting and said the arrangement isn’t uncommon. She also said that a small percentage of her side’s funding would be drawn out over the extended pledges.
When asked directly by Heath how much funding the Healthy Lompoc Coalition has raised so far, following the initial MOU agreement accepted in May, Costa said that her agency has $9,000 to cover costs related to architectural work. She said her group would be actively seeking out pledges after the revised MOU was approved.
Heath and Boardmember Richard King voted against approving the new document.
The next regular meeting of the LUSD board is scheduled for Aug. 14.