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June 6, 2008


By Heather Murtagh



Tight year ahead for San Mateo schools



A tight year is ahead for the San Mateo Union High School District with little changes overall but caution is high since uncertainty with the state budget could change things in the middle of the year.

The district is estimating moving ahead with $96.31 million in its general fund next year with $96.14 million in expenses. A tight and conservative budget plan is before the Board of Trustees for a number of reasons, but mainly due to the uncertainty of the state’s budget situation. In May, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested leveraging the lottery as a means of helping cover the shortfall. Whether or not the suggestion will work is yet to be seen and will not be known until months after classes begin in the district.

With that in mind, mid-year cuts are a real possibility for which the district needs to brace. Lottery funds account for 1.5 percent of the district’s total budget, an amount that could drop if the governor’s lottery plan is passed yet unsuccessful at raising revenues, Chief Business Official Liz McManus said during a special study session last night.

The potential lottery revenue change was met with confusion and almost shock from trustees. Trustee Dave Pine even called the plan “crazy.”

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, joined the district discussion with some enlightening news about the lottery plan. He doesn’t think the votes are there to move the plan from committee to the people, meaning the plan could never make it to the voting public.

Yee indicated the sales tax increase would also fail leaving legislators scurrying to find ways to increase revenue.

Locally, the district also found ways to raise incoming funds.

Increasing bus, field trip and facilities use fees are all in the district’s future to cover the costs. To cut down bills, the district plans to pay off $550,000 of loan debt; reduce the school site supply budget by $142,800; and eliminate bus routes from Foster City to Aragon High School saving $110,000. Plans also include reclassifying a vacant maintenance position saving $20,000, postponing hiring of a position saving $90,000 and a savings of $25,000 in contracted services.

Since basic aid districts are largely funded by local tax revenue, the economy can fluctuate the district’s budget. Looking ahead, the district anticipates property assessment to rise 4 percent in the next year, however home and commercial sales are slow. Construction has also slowed. Overall the state revenue is expected to drop 6.5 percent. Tax rebate requests are also on the rise — an action that can greatly impact local districts. Delayed tax rebates after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 hit the district hard during the 2006 school year resulting in a tumultuous year with the loss of millions, layoffs and protests.

Trustee Robert Griffin was concerned about the district’s communication with the San Mateo County Assessor’s Office, which proved detrimental during the previous hard year. McManus explained there are conversations but it’s still difficult.

The budget will be adopted later this month.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.