Hart district hosts grim budget talk  

The William S. Hart Union High School District office
The William S. Hart Union High School District office
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Updates story with correct figures from latest offer from William S. Hart Union High School District

William S. Hart Union High School District officials shared a grim financial picture for the next few years, with declining enrollments and the dim prospects for more money from the state potentially providing a tough road ahead amid ongoing negotiations with its teachers union. 

Enrollment, average daily attendance and increasing expenditures were the “three big challenges” facing the district, according to the staff presentation by Ralph Peschek, assistant superintendent of business services, while walking the governing board through the staff’s budget development process Wednesday. 
“We have not been immune to the issues the state of California has experienced there,” Peschek said, mentioning a refrain shared by Hart district officials earlier that day when test scores were released that also still reflected the challenges of COVID-19, according to education officials.  

Traditionally, the Hart district has excelled in its average daily attendance figures — a big driver of funding locally since the district doesn’t have the same numbers of special needs students as some of other larger districts close in size, which is another reason the state might distribute additional funds. 

While the amount of money a school gets per-pupil varies significantly even between districts of similar size because the state’s formula depends on a number of factors that affect a school’s population and therefore the cost of serving its students, enrollment remains a major factor, and the Hart district’s has been in decline for years, Peschek said. 

The district had 22,416 students prior to COVID-19, and it’s expecting to have 19,971 next year, according to a demographics report officials shared. And while districts’ funding levels vary, to give an idea of what a difference a 2,400-plus difference would make in school funding, Peschek estimated the district actually receives about $12,500 per student. (For comparison, in 2021-22, the K–12 portion of Proposition 98 funding represented a K-12 per-pupil amount of $13,976, according to the state’s Department of Education.) 

“Our district enrollment has continued to decline throughout the years and is projected in our budget models to continue to decline a few hundred students per year,” he said, adding the budget uses its own more conservative projections that indicate there could be as few as 18,884 students in 2027-28, while demographics experts predict 19,648.  

Regardless, while the total number of students has declined, the number of those students who are consistently showing up to class has also slipped, compounding the declining enrollment issue. The district’s trendline for that data indicates officials expect the numbers to decline, although they have formed a task force to address the issue.  

“At a minimum that needs to level off,” Peschek said, “if we can’t reverse this trend.” He said the efforts from the district’s social workers are already starting to make a difference. 

To demonstrate its financial impact, he presented a chart that showed just a 3% districtwide attendance decline in the last three years since COVID equated to a $7 million hit in funding.  

Board member Cherise Moore also asked if the district needed to be as conservative with its projections, commenting on how much a difference in 800 students means when you look at $12,500 per, which is about $10 million.  

Board member Joe Messina also asked if the district went back and checked its previous estimates from Davis Demographics, which Peschek said they had not, but acknowledged as a good idea. 

The budget discussion comes amid a protracted negotiation with the district’s teachers union over demands for a salary increase and district officials’ assertion there’s no money in the budget for raises. 

In June 2022, the district approved an annual budget that projected $302.8 million in expenditures and $277 million in revenue. However by the time it budgeted for the following year in July 2023, the actuals in that year’s budget indicated the district ended up $15 million in the black, with $319,876,684 in expenditures, and $335,092,114 in revenue. In July, it approved a plan that anticipates $304.8 million in revenue versus $322.8 million in expenditures.   

Districts that don’t estimate conservatively, Peschek said, “find themselves in trouble real quick.” 

At the beginning of the meeting, John Minkus, president of the Hart District Teachers Association, called the district’s last three offers of a 0% wage hike with a 4% off-schedule one-time payment “insulting.”  

He noted the district once again had one of its educators earn the elite state Teacher of the Year award, Casey Cuny of Valencia High, who is the second person in about three years to earn the honor, after Saugus High’s Jim Klipfel. 

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