Merced high school district passes budget that assumes hefty cuts from state

June 25, 2009 

The Merced Union High School District passed its final 2009-2010 budget -- or at least the guiding document they will use until the state passes its own spending plan -- Wednesday night.

An expected cut in state funding of about 18 percent was figured into the budget, Chief Business Officer Diane Hockersmith said.

As a result, the Merced Union High School District will see its healthy year-end general fund account balance dwindle from an estimated $12.9 million this year (which includes stimulus money only recently received) to just $3.8 million in 2012.

In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the district expects to bring in $81.1 million, and spend $83.3 million.

The 2009-2010 budget was predicated on no new cuts after the school board passed a combination of cuts and spending freezes that will save the district $4.2 million a year last March.

The largest single expenditure for the district in 2009-2010 is expected to be employee salaries and benefits, which represent 83 percent of the district's spending and adds up to $69.5 million.

The budget was passed, without any public comment, just hours after state controller John Chiang announced that California may have to start paying vendors with IOUs starting July 2.

Hockersmith said that means the district may have to borrow from its post-employment benefit fund to cover bills in July.

The district's funding was also hit hard for the coming school year by a continuing decrease in developer fees -- money paid by builders to help schools increase capacity for children in new housing developments. Developer fees fell by 16 percent last year, and the fund is expected to fall to $1.6 million at the end of the 2009-2010 fiscal year from $4 at the start of the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

Hockersmith stressed that all spending plans could change based on the will of state lawmakers.

The district expects a total of $3.1 million in one-time funding from the federal stimulus package.

Hockersmith will bring another plan based on the final state budget to the school board 45 days after one is passed, she said.

The Merced City School District held its budget hearing Wednesday night as well. A full story on their decision will be published Friday.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.