by David Safier
It promises to be a hot time in the ol' district Tuesday night, at least for TUSD junkies. At the Tuesday night board meeting, the financial report for the 2013-14 school year will be presented. According to Mark Stegeman's constituent newsletter, the cash reserves — the amount left over to give the district some room to deal with unforeseen expenses — were about $10 million at the end of that school year, down from $14 million in cash reserves left by previous superintendent John Pedicone at the end of the 2012-13 school year. You can expect CFO Karla Soto to report that the cash reserves were significantly higher than Stegeman's estimate.
You can take a look at the Annual Financial Report for the 2013-14 school year here. It's way above my pay grade, so I won't try to interpret it too closely. Any brave souls or CPAs out there, feel free to dig in.
The question is, if there's a serious disagreement in the numbers, who should you believe, Mark Stegeman or H.T. Sanchez? The answer is, this isn't about belief. Budgets aren't religious documents. Let's see what the numbers show and try to make a reasonably objective assessment of what they mean. Remember, it's election season, and the spinmeisters are out in force on all sides. (I was planning to dress up as a spinmeister for Halloween, but I don't know what they wear.)
Meanwhile, here's a related, old TUSD financial situation which probably won't come up at the meeting but is worth recalling when we're talking about budgets and cash reserves. Remember about two years ago when John Pedicone was superintendent, the district said it was facing a $17 million deficit? Lots of schools were shut, but that didn't close the gap, so all kinds of painful, draconian measures were taken to cut spending until the gap was closed.
And at the end of the school year, June, 2013, the district had cash reserves of $14 million. Got that? A $17 million deficit hole absolutely had to be plugged, then the district had a $14 million cash reserve at the end of the year. Once again, this is way above my pay grade, but I'm asking in case someone out there understands this better than I do. When Pedicone said there was a $17 million deficit, was he really saying, "The district needs to cut $17 million so it can preserve its $14 million cash reserve"? If he had said that out loud, I doubt many parents whose kids were at the schools on the chopping block would have said, "We have to close my child's school so we can keep $14 million in case we need it for an emergency? I'm good with that." I think it's more likely they would have screamed, "WTF? We have a cash reserve to take care of an emergency, right? I'd say saving my kid's school qualifies as an emergency!"