Unaccounted funds will cut $2.8 million budget deficit
The Berkeley Unified School District has revised its projected 2002-2003 budget deficit, slashing the figure from $2.8 million to $2 million after discovering that it had underestimated state funding for next year by some $900,000.
District officials cheered the revision. But some worried that the Alameda County Office of Education, which has jurisdiction over Berkeley Unified, still might reject the district’s budget because, even with the $900,000 improvement, it includes a $2 million shortfall.
“If they follow the technical letter of the law, they probably shouldn’t approve it,” said the district’s Associate Superintendent of Business and Operations Jerry Kurr.
County Superintendent Sheila Jordan said her office has not received all the documents it needs to fully evaluate the district’s budget, but suggested that Berkeley Unified faces an uphill battle in winning approval.
“There’s a good chance [the budget] won’t be passed,” she said. “But it’s certainly not impossible.”
Jordan, who is scheduled to make a ruling on the budget in the coming weeks, said the county might approve the document with a lengthy list of conditions attached. Otherwise, it goes back to the drawing board.
Board of Education President Shirley Issel said she is hopeful that the county will sign off on the district budget.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” she said.
Jordan said the county will have a better sense for the true state of the district’s budget, and its prospects for approval, by the end of next week when all the budget documents are in hand.
Jordan expressed mild frustration that the district hadn’t already provided the county with “multi-year projections,” documents which assess the longer-term budget outlook.
“It’s not good,” she said. “We’re all operating on deadlines.”
The Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team, a state agency that has been advising the district on its budget since last year, is working on the projections and are expected to complete them this week, district officials said.
The $900,000 accounting mistake was discovered in recent weeks while compiling the final 2002-2003 budget, endorsed by the school board June 26.
The oversight, labeled a “significant error” in a memo from Kurr to the board last week, was the result of a miscalculation of the district’s expected “revenue limit,” or level of state funding for next year.
Kurr said he is reasonably certain the district will receive the $900,000 included in its latest budget estimate, but noted that the money will not be secure until the state passes a 2002-2003 budget.
The state legislature is more than a month late in meeting its constitutional deadline for passing a budget, with the state Assembly unable to muster the two-thirds vote it needs to pass a $100 billion spending plan.
With a $2 million deficit, the district should be able to pay all its bills next year, district officials say, but it will not meet a state requirement for a reserve amounting to 3 percent of its total budget.
A proper reserve for Berkeley Unified would be about $2.7 million next year, according to Kurr.
Issel said she was pleased with the $900,000 correction.
“That’s $900,000 less in cuts that we’re looking at,” she said, adding that she hopes more corrections are on the way. “I’d like to see (the deficit) keep coming down like a bad fever that’s breaking.”