MERCED — In recent years, schools have endured substantial cuts in programs and personnel, but there are signs the downturn may have ended or at least temporarily abated.
That was the feeling coming from this week's Merced City School District Board of Education meeting, where board members heard Greg Spicer speak about "restoring and responding."
Spicer briefed the board on 2012-13 and 2013-14 fiscal years and unveiled a $78,577,382 proposed budget for the next fiscal year. He hinted better finances may help the district reverse some of its past cutbacks.
"It's very encouraging," Spicer said. "We may not get more, but at least we won't get less. Even if we break even, that's a gain. Flat is better than negative -- by far."
Spicer, associate superintendent for administrative services, said he is hopeful the district can restore some lost services.
Those might include bringing back two assistant principal positions at the middle school level, buying a new school bus after a five-year lull and bringing back two custodians at each school site.
Board member Gene Stamm was cautious in his optimism.
"We really won't know anything until Gov. Brown's May revise," Stamm said. "I look at this (budget) as only a proposal."
Stamm said deferrals by the state in the amount of money owed to districts are still in place and this costs the local district $400,000 to maintain cash flow. He said the board won't act on a new budget until March.
Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran said budget information right now isn't really clear and the district is experiencing cash flow issues from state funding deferrals.
"There still are challenges in front of us," Parga Duran said. "Proposition 30 lifted the veil of doom from us, and we can breathe a little easier. We are looking into restoring drastic cuts."
The district is planning a budget study session from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hoover Middle School. The public is invited to attend the forum.
Spicer said it's very likely the combination of Brown's favorable budget promises from last month and a Democratic supermajority in the state Legislature will bode well for schools.
Spicer also said a 1.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment is expected in state funding. The district may be able to afford bringing in teacher coaches to prepare for the transition to common core instructional practices.
Board member Darrell Cherf said he is cautiously optimistic and the overall picture looks better than it has for a while.
"The district has done a good job of managing funds," Cherf said. "We continue to be careful with spending. Things are starting to turn for the better in public education."
Spicer said the district is down 125 students, which will mean it will need five fewer teachers.
With longtime teachers retiring and newer ones being hired lower on the salary schedule, that may provide a little room to make some adjustments and bring programs back, he added.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org