Board Members, Superintendents, Teachers, and Community members
My name is Lauren Davis, as both a teacher at DMS and a parent of children in this district, I was shocked to receive the January 9th district communique that we are headed toward financial straits in the coming years. Why didn’t I see this coming? What happened to the tax initiative California voters just passed that extended funding, or the 6M we are saving in energy costs since putting in solar? What about the infrastructure bond we passed that I’m still paying for? I thought things were going great! What do you mean there’s going to be a deficit? So, like many of us with inquiring minds, I set out to find out what happened.
At the first Board workshop meeting, I learned that the district was aware of the budget problems for quite some time, possibly years. Which led me to wonder? Why am I just hearing about this now? Do you really believe that discussing the budget problems at past board meetings that few stakeholders attend meets the threshold of being transparent and proactive with stakeholder groups about the budget you have the fiduciary responsibility to develop and authorize? It is the Superintendent’s job to inform its stakeholders of the district financial health and it should’ve happened before January 9th.
I continued to attend the Q and A sessions looking for an explanation of “How did we get here? Mr. Ritter did a great job of explaining LCFF funding and why we are insolvent and will continue to be insolvent in years to come based on Gov. Brown’s current funding formula.
However, the question of how did we get here still went unanswered so I kept digging and thinking. Really, there are only two reasons a person is in debt. Either they spend more than they have or they are crippled by some unforeseen circumstance. In this case, there is no unforeseen circumstance. The district simply continued to make conscious decisions to spend money and the board continued to approved it. In fact, the number of employees has increased each year for the last two years despite declining enrollment.
As Mr. Ritter explained, the local control funding formula, significant increases in STRS contributions and slightly declining enrollment are all reasons we won’t be solvent in the future. However, none of these items were unforeseen when determining the budget in the past or future years and therefore can’t and shouldn’t be used to explain why we are in a budget shortfall moving forward.
In closing, the district knew it had budget shortfall problems, yet did not communicate this to their stakeholders nor did they take an aggressive approach to fixing the problem. Those two decisions have led us to where we are today. The district knew we would end up here some time ago. Rather than decrease their spending to avoid this situation, the decision was made to increase employees and salary for both teachers and administrators. In short, It is simply unfair to expect teachers to work harder (more periods) for less pay (furlough days) due to poor budget decisions that we were not included in and, in my opinion, could have been avoided.