School district goes into red to hire 50 more teachers

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Hemet Unified School District directors adopted a $200 million budget last week that will produce a $16.7-million deficit for fiscal 2014-15, which begins July 1. The current-year budget also has a projected $5.2-million deficit. By fiscal year 2015-16, HUSD believes the two years of losses will be reversed.

Next year’s $203.4-million budget is nearly $27.6 million greater than the 2013-14 budget that ends June 30. These deficits will reduce the district’s reserves from $35.4 million at the end of fiscal 2011-12 to $14 million at the end of 2014-15.

The new budget assumes a 4-percent salary increase, similar to the 4 percent last year, and a $1,500-per-employee increase for health and welfare benefits. However, HUSD and the Hemet Teachers Association have not signed an agreement for the coming year.

While HUSD had planned to increase its contribution to the State Teachers Retirement System by 1.25 percent this year — to a total of 9.5 percent — the revisions to the state budget mandate 1.85 percent annual increases until 2020-21 when all districts will contribute 19.1 percent to Cal STRS.

“This could take all the new money we were expecting,” said Vince Christakos, assistant su- perintendent for Business Services. “We’re currently contributing $8.3 million and it will go to $17.9 million if there is no change in salary costs.”

HUSD also is planning to hire 55 new teachers for 2014-15 and about 13 more the following year. The intent is to lower class sizes throughout the district. The new local control funding sets a goal of 24 students per teacher in kindergarten  through third grade and 31:1 in the higher grades.

Overall, the district is projecting total enrollment declining for the eighth consecutive year. The 2014-15 projected enrollment of 20,707 students is about 9 percent less than the peak in 2006-07.

“Because Idyllwild’s K-3 class sizes were already at or below 24:1 on average in the base year of 2012-13, the target class size for its K-3 classes is 24:1,” said Pamela Buckout, director of Financial Services. “The student-teacher ratio for Idyllwild’s grades four through eight is 31:1, which is the same as other district schools.”

Last year, hours for school library technicians were returned to the levels before staff cuts several years ago. This year, HUSD plans to hire full-time library technicians for each high school.

Other projected increases for 2014-15 include $2.2 million for computers, $1 million for middle-school and high-school athletic programs, and $400,000 for expanding music programs.

One potential issue was the legislative initiative to set a limit on school districts’ reserves. It is now tied to the Rainy Day proposition to be on the November ballot. The proposal would cap reserves at 6 percent of the operating budget. The current minimum is 3 percent.

“Our board policy is 5 percent,” Christakos said. “So this doesn’t give us much local control in case of another economic downturn.”

In August, financial staff will revise the budget projections to account for the changes resulting from the recently enacted state budget for 2014-15.

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