The Eastern Sierra Unified School District staff and concerned community members continue to sort out what went wrong with the district budget along with what needs to be done to dig out.
The district faces a budget deficit of close to $2 million. About half of the deficit is due to a shortfall in money coming in. The other half can be chalked up to new spending.
Of the close to $1 million in increased expenses for Eastern Sierra Unified this year, salary increases make up about $210,000, along with an additional $100,000 in benefits.
While some point the finger at the Superintendent Don Clark, others say the school board is to blame. One argument is that the district spends too much money, including spending too much money on the Superintendent. On top of his $130,000 a year salary, the board approved an $80,000 no-interest loan to help buy the Superintendent a house. Along with benefits such as paying for retirement on about 18 years of work done outside the district, Clarks pay from the school district ends up at about $193,000 a year.
Inyo County School Superintendent Terry McAteer explained that a typical school superintendent for a small district makes less than Clark, but the benefits make the contract unique. Its like no employment package Ive ever seen, McAteer says.
Citing recruitment and retention issues, school board member Anne Aylesworth said she feels good about the money loaned to Clark to buy a house. The district had a few too many superintendents, who have come and gone, she said, adding, We needed someone to commit for more than 1, 2, or 3 years. The contract on the home loan requires Clark to pay the loan back if he leaves, but the loan becomes a gift if the superintendent stays with the district until he retires.
Renegotiation of the Superintendents contract has been suggested as a solution at the public meetings.
Another difference between the Eastern Sierra Unified School District and others in the region is that school board members receive health insurance through the district. Mono County Superintendent of Schools Catherine Hiatt says that this is not unusual in the State of California, but did say that none of the school districts boards in Inyo County receive health benefits.
Mammoth Unified School District used to give board members health insurance but stopped doing so in order to save money. Mammoth School officials say that in the past, some school board members ran for the position because they needed the health insurance.
At about $14,000 per board member per year for healthcare, reports now indicate that the health benefits for ESUSD school board members are on the list of possible cuts.
The Eastern Sierra Unified School District Board is set to meet again on April 21.