Berkeley Unified School District Ends Financial Year on a Positive Note

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday September 24, 2009 - 09:20:00 AM

Despite ongoing budget challenges, the Berkeley Unified School District was able to end its 2008-09 financial year on a positive note. 

A report issued to the Berkeley Board of Education at their regular meeting last week by district Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland shows that the district has enough money to begin the 2009–10 school year with the help of reserve funds. 

The report carried information about the district’s 2008–09 “Unaudited Actuals,” financial data on revenues and expenditures for the entire school year ending June 30 as reported by the school district to the state Department of Education prior to its annual audit. 

Berkeley Unified faced an $8 million deficit for fiscal years 2008–09 and 2009–10 in light of state budget cuts, leading district officials to believe they would have to borrow from local parcel taxes. 

Cleveland told board members that the district had been able to close its books without having to rely on parcel taxes. 

“It doesn’t mean we have a lot of money; it means we have a stable budget,” Cleveland told the Planet after the meeting. “But we have to keep monitoring the bud-get because of the continuing state budget cuts.” 

Cleveland said the district’s revenue had exceeded its expenses. 

“We have made all the cuts, and we have a solid budget,” said District Superintendent Bill Huyett. “It’s healthier than other districts, but it’s squeaky tight though.” 

Huyett later joked with board members that his motto this year is “If you are going to add something, what are you going to take away?” 

The district’s General Fund revenue was $110.4 million, of which 44 percent—the biggest chunk—came from student attendance, followed by the Measure A parcel tax at 20 percent. 

Huyett told the Planet that the district had succeeded in lowering expenses by reducing costs in transportation and food services and raising attendance in schools. 

Berkeley Unified’s Nutrition Services department become budget-neutral this year, spending only $28,000 from General Fund money instead of the estimated $300,000. 

The amount the district receives from the state for student attendance went down by a million dollars this year, and there was a decrease in state program funding by 14 percent because of a weak state budget, a fact school board member John Selawsky warned would “play for years to come.” 

The district’s total expenditure during the same period was $110.8 million, out of which salaries and benefits were $88 million, making up 79 percent of the budget. 

Cleveland pointed out that salaries and benefits increased by 4 percent last year because of salary increases due to the higher cost of living. 

The district spent $4 million on books and supplies, a decrease of 7.6 percent over the prior year because of reductions to the state budget. 

Services and operating expenses for the district increased by $1.6 million over 2007–08, of which at least $800,000 went towards special education costs, including lawsuit settlements and placements at external agencies. 

Huyett said that if the district decided to make additional cuts to the budget, it would bring recommendations to the board before January. He said he would reconvene his Budget Advisory Committee, which in prior years has advised him on how to close the budget hole. 

“It doesn’t look we are coming out of the recession very robustly,” he said. “But we have to move forward, educate our kids.”