We Need to Take Care of Our Own

I want to address a sentiment that seems prevalent among many in our community. Recently there was an article in the UT about the overflow of local government reserve funds, and Carlsbad was one of those featured in the article. It was reported that we have $81,111,422 in the general reserve fund with annual expenses totaling $95,968,129. In other words, the City of Carlsbad has officially set-aside 85% of its annual budget for a rainy day. For the city to have “top rating-agency” scores the reserve needs to be at least 15%. Our city has stellar credit scores.

When the recession began our city managers immediately began measures to reign in spending. I distinctly remember a few years ago that while flipping through a Carlsbad parks and recreation catalog there was a nicely worded notice explaining that they would be watering the grass at our many parks a little less frequently, pulling fewer weeds, etc., so that if things started looking a little shaggy that was the reason and it was intentionally so. I remember thinking how that simple action was emblematic of how forward-thinking, diplomatic and practical their planning was. Our leadership is prudent, fiscally responsible with our tax dollars, dutifully planning for the future of our beautiful city by the ocean and I am grateful for it.

But with our surplus of money I have to ask, would it be prudent to allow our home values to decline because of the loss of our fine schools? Is that fiscally responsible? Is the city planning well for our future by ignoring the needs of our families and youth?

We are an integral, vibrant part of the community, deeply rooted and emotionally invested in our children and schools. Just take a look at the way Buena Vista parents rallied when their school was threatened with closure. The recently stated priorities of our city council include addressing the needs of our geriatric population, technology implementation, land use policies, supporting a thriving business community and even becoming a “hub of higher education.” But not a single mention of our children and families.

I would say that our children and schools are the heart of our community and well worth supporting, even fighting for.

I realize that there are a number of our citizenry who don’t feel this way. I think that for some it is in part because they don’t understand how dire our situation truly is and they mistakenly believe that much of CUSD’s problems stem from mismanagement, over-paying our teachers and administrators, declining enrollment etc. The following response letter puts into words what some people opposed to helping our schools seem to think.

Bailout for schools is not a solution
“Carlsbad exploring ways to help schools” (North County Coastal, March 22) reported that Carlsbad Unified has a $7.8 budget deficit. Carlsbad city officials are now considering ways to give money, i.e., bailout, the school district.

School districts receive their operating revenues in the form of allocations from the state based on student enrollments. Enrollment in Carlsbad Unified schools has been trending down for several years and is projected to decline further in the future. Lower state allocations will follow. Thus, the budget deficit is based primarily on fewer students.

Bailouts will not solve this problem for the management of Carlsbad Unified or Carlsbad City officials. Bailouts will only make the cost per student to get higher than it already is. With lower student enrollment, more and more bailouts will be needed each year and make the inevitable downsizing that must occur ever more painful. With fewer and fewer students, bailouts only kick the can down the road.

An added financial problem looming on the horizon for Carlsbad Unified is the effect declining enrollment will have on the district’s second high school now being constructed and scheduled for completion in fall 2013. There is a growing possibility it may not be needed. If this occurs, necessary maintenance costs will continue for the district nonetheless, requiring more bailouts.

Another elephant in the room for city officials is the possible bailouts that the other three school districts in the city may seek.”
– James Stanton, Carlsbad

Firstly, I think the term ‘bailout’ which Mr. Stanton chooses to use several times is inflammatory and not helpful in resolving the extraordinary issues our schools — and schools throughout California are facing. Nor is it helpful in promoting a civil discussion. Who has warm fuzzy feelings about our recent government ‘bailouts’?

I know I don’t.

I do know that California’s State budget is in dire straits and that it is unlikely that our legislature will come up with a stable, sane way to fund education in the foreseeable future. I also know that in Carlsbad our school district is overly dependent upon revenue from property taxes and that the downturn in the economy is hitting us hard. Declining enrollment is NOT the source of our budget deficit. In fact, because we are a basic aid district lower enrollment would mean MORE money per student. Regardless, projections do not show our enrollment declining significantly.

Each school district does have unique circumstances financially affecting them, but the crisis in education is a state-wide phenomenon, not unique to Carlsbad. The general distrust that we have for Sacramento and our Federal Government is palpable. No one wants to pay more in taxes for anything, even for education. We simply don’t trust them to use our money wisely. We need to be proactive in finding solutions at the LOCAL level and our entire city needs to be part of the solution. We need to take care of our own.

We do have an immediate need for money. But please don’t call it a bailout. It’s an investment in the health of our community.