Merced City School District trustees are pondering the district's immediate future, as well as plans 15 to 20 years down the road, in considering whether voters will support educational tax initiatives in next month's election.
Greg Spicer, the district's associate superintendent for administrative services, briefed board members Tuesday night about a series of three public budget forums. Two of these sessions were held last month. The third is set Oct. 18 at 5:30 p.m. in the Rivera Middle School gymnasium.
If voters don't approve either state Propositions 30 or 38, the district could be facing a deficit of more than $7 million, Spicer said. From 80 to 140 parents and district staff members have attended previous forums, Spicer said, there was good interaction with the public with a number of ideas given about how a large budget deficit could be addressed.
Options discussed have included increasing class sizes, closing one or two of the smaller schools, resetting attendance boundaries, changing a middle school to serve kindergarten through eighth grades, adding furlough days or cutting instruction days.
Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran called many of these suggestions harsh but said they must be considered if the November tax measures fail.
"We'll really be in trouble if one of the initiatives doesn't pass," Duran said. "We cannot tell the public what to vote for. If Proposition 38 passes, it could still trigger budget cuts. Prop. 30 would provide enough money to keep us afloat."
Board member Gene Stamm urged the public to attend the Oct. 18 budget forum to offer input and understand the alternatives available.
"We don't want to do anything arbitrarily," Stamm said. "What happens if Prop. 30 doesn't pass? We may have to close schools. It's very important the public shows up."
Board president Adam Cox said it's all about the district being transparent with its stakeholders.
The forums have generated a lot of ideas, Cox said, some great and some not feasible. Some suggestions would radically change the face of the district.
Board member Darrell Cherf said schools will make automated phone calls to parents urging their attendance at the Oct. 18 public forum, and fliers will be sent home with students.
The board heard an hour-long information-only presentation from the Dolinka Group of Irvine, a financial adviser for the educational community, about its long-range facilities master plan. Spicer said hundreds of children will be attending school in the Bellevue Ranch area of north Merced where there are no schools now, and existing schools will need modernization and technology updates in the decades ahead.
"A lot of things need to be looked at," Stamm said. The board has made no commitments about future planning and will address the issues at future meetings, he said.
Even with uncertainties now, Duran said, the district still has to have a plan for updating facilities. The district should have projects in mind and be in a position to capitalize on state funding if it becomes available.
"The smart thing is to have things in place," Duran said. "There's a whole new part of the city (the Bellevue corridor) where the growth is going to be."
Cox said the facilities master plan for 15 to 20 years ahead will be discussed at another board meeting. The board needs to be diligent and not let anything catch the district by surprise, he added.
Cherf said board members will decide if they want to go forward with future planning. He wants to see what costs are involved in the planning process but conceded that growth is something they need to look at as changes happen.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.