NUSD Economic Forecast Gets Bleaker

News that Natomas Unified School District bonds were downgraded because of its deteriorating finances probably came as a surprise to few in the neighborhood. After all, anyone paying attention has watched as district officials whittled away at education programs, school services, and staff salaries in recent months.

And while not surprising to THE BUZZ, several area residents were shocked to learn all that cost cutting, program slashing and pink slipping wasn’t nearly enough to pull the Natomas school district out of its budget crisis. At last week’s school board meeting, it was reported the district must cut another $3 million this year — or $5.5 million over the next three years — to remain solvent!

What happened? Well, enrollment is down. Not in the district overall, just at some of its schools.

Turns out, when the district decided to relocate the NP3 charter school to the Natomas Middle School campus and add a middle school to the program, they didn’t budget accordingly. NP3 picked up 420 new students from the previous year which translates into a loss of about $3 million to the district’s coffers.

THE BUZZ cannot help but ask why the district would increase a charter school’s capacity and not expect students from the traditional campuses to enroll in it? Also, one of the driving arguments for relocating NP3 to the Del Paso Road site was to “save money” on the leased space it has been occupying. Come to find out, the district is locked into a lease at the rented site for another year (now it plans to open a Community Day School there)!

School district officials continue to point out that Natomas teachers have yet to take pay cuts. It’s true, a proposed contract that would’ve saved the district more than $1 million was narrowly voted down and Natomas Teachers Association union reps continue to negotiate with the school district. But now they now want to see the district’s final financials for the 2008-09 year before asking members to vote again. Sure a contract will close the gap, but not erase the deficit entirely.

And why not wait, after some of the district’s “cuts” have failed to yield any real savings?

THE BUZZ is reminded of one of the budget meetings during which consumables, or student workbooks, were cut from the budget. Right after that action, the school board directed district Chief Financial Officer John Christ to go ahead and place the order for the workbooks, but not to tell the Sacramento County Office of Education which monitors the district’s finances.

Natomas Unified School District officials have said again and again that if the budget is not balanced, that county officials will come in and do it for them. To which the SCOE spokesman Tim Herrera responds,

“Any talk of us coming into a district and taking over is just not accurate. Any talk we are telling any district which programs to cut is also not accurate. That’s just not our function.”


  1. Amen to the BUZZ for saying what needs to be said!! I was at the meeting where they “cut” workbooks out of the budget but gave the go-ahead to order them anyway…huh?!?! It’s like buying land and not having properly appraised. Seems the district has a severe case of the “do as I say, not as I do’s”. Sad to say when at the end of the day the KIDS ARE THE LOSERS IN THIS GAME OF RUSSIAN ROULETTE!!

  2. This reminds me of discussion many years ago when the district was including Heritage Park in the projected student enrollment calculations. Despite being told repeatedly that there would be NO students living there, they kept them in the projections for months.

    When will enough parents get mad in Natomas to throw a huge fit? How long will SCOE let this ridiculous mismanagement go on?

  3. Bravissimo!!!!!!!!! Go, Buzz!! Thank you for fearlessly spreading…. TRUTH.

  4. I hope this great expose explains to the community why the teachers are not jumping through hoops to bail out this financial fiasco. How can anyone trust a thing that comes from the district level? When the district gets their act together, perhaps we’ll see some movement from the most savvy of the employee groups.

  5. I heard some of the problem is that Twin Rivers took a good many of their students back too. Their unification last year caused disorganization and an mistaken outflux of students into Natomas. Also, the expansion of NP3 were not all Natomas students, many were out of district students. I just don’t see how anyone can believe the district’s enrollment numbers either. They are not at all trustworthy.

  6. After attending several of the “budget” school board meetings, it was clear that the school board was budgeting under total chaos. They did not know what they were doing. Numbers were being fed to them that were based on incredibly bad assumptions and the board did not even question them. As far as I am concerned, they the entire Board has continued to fail in their duties to our kids. I came away from every meeting clearly knowing the School Board had no clue what it was doing. It was just sad to know that my kids are so affected by the School Board’s very poor decisions.

  7. Natomas Park Resident says

    Earlier today the Natomas Buzz posted an article titled NUSD Economic Forecast Gets Bleaker, which unfortunately contained numerous factual errors at best and blatantly misleading statements at worse; designed to further degrade the school district and its Board of Trustees. I would like to take an opportunity to discuss several of the points made in this article and shed light on some of these issues.
    1) Where the Buzz indicates that the “when the district decided to relocate NP3 charter school to Natomas Middle..and add a middle school to the program, they didn’t budget accordingly. THE BUZZ cannot help but ask why the district would increase a charter school’s capacity and not expect students from the traditional campuses to enroll in it?” This misleading representation fails to recognize that NP3 has a binding contract with NUSD for a specific number of students per class and that Superintendant Dr. Farrar and his senior staff FAILED to provide appropriate and adequate oversight to the school’s enrollment, allowing NP3’s numbers to balloon, causing this enrollment shortfall. It should be noted that at the NUSD Board of Trustees meeting that the Buzz refers to on Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 the ONLY member of the Board of Trustees to ask about this oversight failure, and to request a prompt report and accountability was Lisa Kaplan.
    2) The Buzz identifies unnamed “School district officials” as pointing out that the excellent teachers of our school district have failed to take paycuts, and while the sentiment is correct, the teachers have rejected the contract renegotiation, the Buzz should identify these individuals for accountability and attribution if it chooses to present its self as a news source for Natomas (as it has done when on Facebook complaining about how the Bee steals its stories).

    Furthermore, it is imperative to note that as discussed at last week’s NUSD Board of Trustees meeting; salaries, benefits, retirement, and other personnel costs account for over 90% of the NUSD Budget, an item greater than any other expense. Additionally, it was at the insistence of Superintendent Farrar in March of 2009 to NOT lay off teachers that has significantly contributed to not only the NTA negotiation breakdowns, but to this existing additional round of budget cuts. Again, having attended that meeting, I recall that it was NUSD Trustee Lisa Kaplan that was the ONLY Trustee to significantly question Dr. Farrar’s assumptions, his methodology, and ultimately his recommendation regarding teacher layoffs.

    At a time when school district funding has been cut by over 30% in this year ALONE by the State of California and Governor Schwarzenegger and been cut each of the past SEVEN years by the Legislature, EVERYONE, including teachers need to come to the table and make sacrifices instead of excuses.

    A side note, as I understand it, Natomas Unified School District has been over the past seven years, one of two, if not the ONLY, school district in Sacramento County to have to ADD schools to its district due to growing populations instead of closing schools like San Juan. This has been done with not just ZERO money from the state, but with significant funding REDUCTIONS from the state and at a cost of over 1 Million dollars to the district’s General Fund for each school its had to open.

  8. Natomas Park Resident says

    Part 2 – the character limit forces me to put my comments into two posts. I hope you will continue to read.

    3) Had the BUZZ cared to actually listen to the dialogue during the September 9th Trustee meeting, it would have explicitly heard the Sacramento County Office of Education AND CFO Christ both say that in the event that the District falls into NEGATIVE QUALIFICATION (A term used by the Board of Education) that it would implement strict oversight and review of the Districts financials, its spending authority, and its revenue assumptions. NOT ONCE at that meeting, or at any other that I am aware, has ANY school board member or anyone else say they would, “come in and do it for them.” This is again, rhetorical, shoddy, and misleading reporting that not only damages the school and its students, but also the community.
    The Buzz should think long and hard about this story that it has just published, and consider publicly retracting significant portions of this article and making changes highlighted as such in a republished version. The Buzz is a great resource for the community and should hold itself to a higher standard.

  9. Received from Lisa M Kaplan September 10 at 9:03am
    via Facebook

    Parents, Teachers, Community members, Friends:

    Last night the board took another hard look at our budget because unfortunately, our teacher’s association voted down the tentative agreement that would have saved NUSD money. In light of this, a reduced enrollment of children and other cuts from the state and saving that have not materialized – NUSD will need to cut another $5.5 million from the budget this year.

    What does that mean? Hard decisions are ahead and I want to make sure that you as interested parties are involved in what the district is doing.

    To be involved in this, please review the budget documents we have on-line that are new and 2) come out to the board meeting on 9/23 at 1901 Arena Blvd to be a part of the discussion. The meeting with begin at 6pm.

    Just so you know what was discussed last night as ideas of what will be cut…here they are
    – Next year all classes are 30 to1
    – No athletics
    – Changing requirements for graduation down to the State Minimum so that we can cut ART, MUSIC, PHOTOGRAPHY and any extra class that is not required by state law

    There are no easy decisions – we have been fiscally responsible as a District, unfortunately, the District has taken a 30% cut in 2 years to our base funding which is 90% salaries and benefits.

    I am sad and disheartened by what we have to do to remain fiscally solvent. Last night the County told us that if we did not make these cuts – they would come into the district and make the cuts above for us…either way – these are very scary times and I wanted to make sure everyone knew what was on the table and being discussed.

    INTERIM- Also at this 9/23 board meeting the Board between now and then will be gathering information on the qualities that the community, teachers, parents, kids desire in a INTERIM Supt. The board hopes to have names and qualities to give to the Subcommittee so that they can do the due diligence and have a name to give to the entire board to approve at the October Board meeting. The board decided that whomever we pick as an interim – the board is only desire is to have them as an interim and that the board will not consider the applicant for the permanent Superintendent position.

    – the Board is going to put out an rfp to search firms to help us with this process.
    – We will have community meeting as to what qualities the community, teachers, parents, classified, kids etc… desire in their Superintendent.
    – Depending on how quick the process goes – we may hire a Superintendent in Jan/Fed or they won’t start until the beginning of the school year / fiscal year in July.

    I look forward to hearing from all of you what qualities you would like to see in an Interim and permanent Superintendent.

    Don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Lisa Kaplan
    Trustee, Natomas USD
    [email protected]

  10. Natomas Park Resident, you seem to be repeating figures that the district has given out as if they are facts, but these “facts” and figures have not been independently verified as even close to being correct. Several assumptions and errors are made when you simply repeat the district’s excuses (your word) as to why we are where we are now. The Buzz was smart to contact the county like any legit reporter should do to get the true story. Very enlightening reporting from the Buzz and MUCH appreciated. Thank you!

  11. Natomas Park Resident- This sounds almost like a legal argument. It makes one wonder. Why question honest discourse in pursuit of the truth? It seems to be a generally accepted feeling right now that the school board is not being up front about the true state of district finances, and many residents are asking questions that are not being answered. At least the Buzz went to a reputable source at SCOE and got information that the public needed to know.

  12. Scott Dosick says

    I hope that BUZZ readers can turn their attention to proactive solutions moving forward. The facts: over 91% of NUSD’s budget is salaries/benefits. According to the latest estimates, we need to cut roughly $28 million over the next 4 years to have a balanced budget – or roughly $7 million a year for each of the next 4 years. This represents about 11% of the budget. So, BEST case scenario, if NUSD eliminated 100% of the non-salary budget (which pays for silly things like text books, consumables, transporation, heat, air conditioning, paper, etc), they would still need to cut 2% of the total budget from salaries. I am not advocating for this – simply doing the math. NUSD CANNOT BALANCE THE BUDGET WITHOUT ADDITIONAL CUTS TO SALARIES. These cuts can take one of two forms: layoffs or concessions. More layoffs = increased class sizes. To put it another way… according to NUSD’s numbers, if all NUSD employees (managers, teachers, non-certificated) took an across the board 15% cut, we could achieve the needed savings WITHOUT INCREASING CLASS SIZE. 15% is roughly the same cut being taken by all State employees due to 3 furlough days per month. From some of the earlier posts, it would appear that some out there do not trust the NUSD board and/or employees and seem to feel that there is a hidden pot of gold they are squirling away. All I can say is that NUSD has an independent audit and, the CA Teachers Association also reviews their books each year (as they do for all school districts in the state). I don’t like this situation, but the math doesn’t lie. So, in the interest of being proactive and looking forward, I have one final thought: perhaps we are making the same mistake our state legislators are, addressing only an expenditure problem when what we have is also a REVENUE problem. For your consideration… if there was an additional $100 parcel tax assessment, it would raise roughly $2 million per year. If I’m going to ask teachers to take a hit, I’ll take one too.

  13. Comments will be rejected if they:

    * Are abusive, off-topic, or use excessive foul language.
    * Contain racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other slurs.
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  14. Natomas Park Resident – I’m not sure if you were at the same meeting as the Buzz but I was and the Board DID say that if they didn’t cut, the state WOULD come in and take them over. Also, one board member questioning the policies of the entire district is not enough. We need more people who DON’T give a crap if they are popular and DO give a crap about speaking out about mis-management of funds, etc. It is time for revolt people. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!

  15. Suggestions:

    I’d like to see a formal lawsuit filed on behalf of the parents and students of the district regarding the shady land deal. Perhaps we can find some generous lawyer in the area who would like to take this on for a set fee.

    Teachers need to realize that they are a large portion of the district budget. Without concessions, we will get nowhere. You have to choose- 35 kids in a class or a pay cut. As a teacher myself, I’ll take the pay cut and make it work. 35 kids just means more stuff I have to buy out of my own pocket anyway.

    Some problems can be solved without money. Administrators need to get OUT of the office and IN the classrooms. Be visible every day. The parents, teachers and students need to set higher expectations for the schools. The district and principals needs to encourage innovation in the classroom and allow teachers to try out different ways of teaching. Set pilot programs within schools where a teacher or team of teachers is not required to use the same curriculum, but is given freedom to stray for a few months. Requiring teachers to use scripted, expensive and not very effective curriculum is NOT going to help in the long run.

    Parents need to step up across the board as well. Turn off the TV and do your kids’ homework together. Volunteer at school- and YES there are ways and NO I don’t want to hear about how hard it is. Can’t do it? Get a family friend, grandparent or other relative to do your part. Or help at home by cutting stuff out, sharpening pencils, making playdoh, grading papers, sending emails for the teacher, organizing a book swap, go pull weeds or whatever you can do. Every hour of work that parents do is an hour of work that the district doesn’t have to PAY someone. Teachers can spend that extra time working on new ideas instead of making copies.

  16. On May 8, 2009, the Sacramento Bee published an article (“School districts to receive millions in stimulus money,” Page 2B) that included the following:

    Local school districts will receive millions in stimulus money for low-income students and special education as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into effect by President Barack Obama in February. Payments are scheduled to be sent out this month.

    Elk Grove United School District – Title 1: $6,364,054; special education: $11,003,175

    Folsom-Cordova Unified School District – Title 1: $1,174,174; special education: $3,267,600

    Sacramento City Unified School District – Title 1: $13,108,764; special education: $9,697,001

    Natomas Unified – Title 1: $232,501

    San Juan Unified – Title 1: $6,625,065; special education: $8,469,754

    Twin Rivers Unified School District – Title 1: $5,824,556

    Sacramento County Office of Education – Title 1: $714,357; special education: $10,932,544

    Why was Natomas Unified School District’s allocation so small relative to other districts in our area? Why didn’t NUSD fight harder for a more equitable distribution of federal dollars?

  17. Applause to “Sacramento Coffee and Sacramento Safe Kids”. Your well thought out and articulate presentation of ideas and information in your second comment were a pleasure to read. I am hoping and praying that more teachers, parents, and administrators will read that post and maybe, just maybe something will click.

    Let’s be proactive TOGETHER because as the cliche old saying goes, “It takes a villiage to raise a child”.

  18. Maybe we dont have as many low income students, Title 1 schools, or special ed students as the other districts mentioned.

  19. Molly- Thanks for your kind words! I hope that our district can come out of this situation in a positive way that helps the kids. In the long run, all these children are the ones who control our future. They need to get wealthy so I can collect social security when I’m old! :-)

  20. Natomas Park Resident…are you sure you’re not a board member?

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