June 17, 2019
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School district balances budget

By: Lanny Lowery
April 5, 2019

When the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District’s Budget Committee met for the fifth time in the past eight weeks, good news greeted its members.  Expenditures for one $100K item for next year had been listed in two different places in the budget.  Also, election expenses for $30K had been projected for years when no elections were scheduled.  And new revenues were found.

The upshot of this good news meant that the controversial cut of three assistant principals became moot as these positions will be retained.  At the March 12 school board meeting, all budget committee recommendations were approved with the exception of the reduction of three fulltime assistant principals.  This left a $224,512 shortfall of the deficit target identified at the second interim for 2019-2020.

This meant that the District Administration team would have to meet to review and identify additional areas in the budget that would eliminate the deficit.  Interim Superintendent Tony Roehrick informed the budget committee, “Robert Marical (Chief Business Officer) went back and scoured to find some other areas.  We would not have done that without pushback.  This committee should be ongoing and continually review the budget.”

Both Board and Budget Committee pushback made the difference.  School Board President Leff Brown saw this as the product of group effort:  “We found a solution by everyone coming together.  We had to pushback which caused an acceptable solution.”  Tony Roehrick’s leadership style seems to be not only to get groups of people involved but also to validate their input by acting upon it.

Roehrick, along with wanting ongoing committee oversight, believes that one key to avoiding future budgeting errors will be to start a new budget from the beginning rather than simply rolling over all accounts.  He promised, “In the future, Robert Marical will start from scratch rather than roll budgets over.”

Trustee Chrissa Gillies, a careful budget analyst, understands the difficulty in working with an old budget put in place by the old business manager.  “In Robert Marical’s defense, he came into a budget that was already written and approved.  I was glad to hear that for next year we are starting with a blank budget template.”  In other words, each line item is reviewed and assessed and understood just as though it were appearing for the first time. 

Gillies, adamant that the budget could be balanced without cutting administrators, believes that trustees were not elected simply to follow recommendations given to them by administrators or committees.  She sees her role and responsibility as an active one.  “In regards to the reduction of assistant principals, without pushback from several trustees, three more employees would have lost their jobs and the district would have lost valuable support at their sites.”

So, what were the discoveries?  The “Code to the Future” for $100K appeared in two different places in the budget.  The election account budgeted $30K even though no election would take place next year.  $24K for travel and conferences was eliminated.  Also, another $353,950K was taken out of contract services. 

Next step, these revised recommendations for the Fiscal Recovery Plan will be presented to the school board for approval at its April 16 meeting.  The Fiscal Recovery Plan will be implemented in the 2018-19 3rd Interim and the 2019-20 Adopted Budget with expected to have Positive Certifications.  The Fiscal Recovery Plan will be forwarded to the Sonoma County Office of Education.

One important point of discussion came out of the March 28 budget meeting.  The superintendent and the two trustees on the committee all agreed that surveillance of the budget, constant monitoring, should be ongoing.  And, finally, the committee that pushed back should continue to meet, ask questions and make recommendations.  If $100K was accidentally double-budgeted, other mistakes may well be located with ongoing vigilance.