Much of Susan Dyke’s job as Oakdale Joint Unified School District Chief Business Officer was under the microscope in the 2014-2015 school year. As the ‘keeper of the books’ so to speak, the numbers cruncher and the Administrator in charge of the projected budget much was spoken about a reserve, which was believed to be too high during contract negotiations.
As a parent, a community member and a staffer for the local news source in a small community, I found it all both interesting and confusing.
If indeed the State upholds a standard of a reserve which should be 3 percent, how and why does OJUSD continue to operate with a number which is above what many indicated was status quo?
Countless times I was approached by parent friends either in person, via text or an e-mail wondering what I knew about the reserve. Why our district was so stingy and why they ‘kept so much’ versus ‘giving it to the teachers’?
School Board meetings are my job, after all and while I don’t and didn’t know all the answers, I was always more than happy to report back on what I did and do know. Some learned from meetings, other facts gained as I sit in the offices of our District Staff asking questions that others (myself included) want answers to.
As we approach the coming school year, I wanted to share a bit from my ‘notebook’ from an enlightening conversation I shared with Chief Business Officer Dyke. Dyke was kind enough to spend an hour with me one afternoon to help me understand the 3 percent controversy, why we feel the ‘need’ to hold so much more and a number of other things. Hers is the voice heard on a regular basis at the school board meetings, rattling off large numbers with big explanations via a power point spread sheet. Dyke is just as passionate about maintaining an accurate budget as she is making sure the right funding makes it to the right places to benefit our students.
Reliving a bit of prior year history, Dyke shared experience from a time when the State of California withheld money and began funding schools through deferrals. She shared that while reserve funds were and should be reviewed as a savings versus flexible spending, the deferrals of 2009-10 made changes necessary.
“We never thought that we would have to look at our reserve as anything but a state requirement to have a little bit set aside,” Dyke said. “It wasn’t until the reality hit that the state will withhold money if they have a cash issue. We as a government agency thought, we’re protected. We’re a government agency, they have to pay us.
I don’t know if 3 percent was ever an appropriate amount to cover one month’s payroll for a district of our size,” she continued, noting that a 3 percent reserve for our district would be $1.5 million. An amount of $2.8 million (5.3 percent) would be needed to cover the one month’s payroll for OJUSD staff.
“I would hope that other districts view it that way,” she said of the district’s approach to reserve projections designed to meet payroll for staff members. “Not only are they your staff, they are your greatest commodity. They are the ones who do the work for the district.
“The state is not requiring us to have opinion (from outside sources) that will then revise that fact,” Dyke said of a reserve which may be higher than the 3 percent minimum. “It’s just a matter of disseminating that information. We’re being as transparent as we can. Showing these are the reasons we have money beyond 3 percent.”
The current 2015-16 budget adoption included General Fund revenues of $51.2 million and expenditures of $52 million with a General Fund reserve of 10.17 percent.
Dyke shared that due to the district maintaining a position of holding responsibility of keeping one month of salaries on hand for emergency situations, the true ‘reserve’ is what happens between the 5 and 10 percent.
“That’s when you start looking at it as your savings account,” the Business Officer said, “and it’s more liquid, which means you’re probably going to use that money in the next year. The 5.3 percent is the true emergency money.”
Dyke also made note of the ever changing needs due to the Common Core adoption, much of which is unforeseeable in the way of accurately budgeting.
“Common Core brings with it expense,” she said, “which is frustrating for staff as well as administrators. We just don’t know so many things that are our responsibility to cover and it’s going to take some time to put assets together to cover them.
“LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) is different. LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) is different,” she said of spending accountability. “Your priority is to help your students to achieve at their highest levels and to help them transition with Common Core into things that will make them great leaders of this country … everything in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and if we don’t have those things in place to get them there, that needs to be our priority.
“Getting the mindset to shift is a bit harder,” she added of the mindset that additional funds should go straight to salaries. “They need the tools. They need the technology. They need the textbooks. They need the training.”
Lastly, Dyke felt it important to also acknowledge that the demographic make-up of OJUSD also plays a factor in the amount of money received through state funding.
“When looking at percentage of our EL’s (English learners), fosters and poverty students our number is really small in comparison to others in the county,” she reported, noting that OJUSD ranks 18 out of 25 in the way of the student numbers in these categories. “We can no longer compare and say we’re getting the same money as them because we’re not. We’re getting just a fraction.
“We can’t give double digit raises,” she continued. “That reminds us what the priority of our district is … to educate the students. Actually those other districts with those higher percentages of students have great challenges to prove that they are increasing their services to those students. That needs to be considered.”
In closing, Dyke recognized the overwhelming nature of all the reports and information in regard to District spending and budget concerns stating, “I’m more than happy to sit down with anyone and break it down as simply as I can. This is all public information. I’m always happy to address any questions or concerns.”
Additional information regarding the 2015-16 budget and projections may be found at www.ojusd.org/Budget.