San Mateo schools to restore budget reserve

Following years of fiscal problems, a school district’s board of trustees is expected to approve a budget tonight that will restore a mandatory 3 percent reserve.

Though San Mateo Union High School District board members are pleased that reserve goals will be met after two years of falling short, they added that budgets in future years should allow the reserve to grow. The proposed $90 million budget, which cuts funds from several areas — especially transportation, such as school bus routes — is meant to open an opportunity to expand the county-mandated reserve in the long term, said Liz McManus, the district financial head.

“This was probably one of the top priorities for the board this year,” she said. “They made tough decisions to stop the deficit-spending trend.”

The district has been at the center of scrutiny after three recent civil grand jury reports that criticized years of deficit spending. District officials have pinned fiscal problems on shortfalls in anticipated revenue from property taxes.

With most cuts coming from transportation, McManus will sit down with staff next week to streamline specific bus routes and possibly eliminate some routes. She will also work with staff to centralize the storage and maintenance of buses and vehicles. Buses get about four miles a gallon and centralizing vehicle storage would save $30,000 in oil and gas alone, McManus said.

“We have to pay $170,000 for vehicle maintenance, which includes buses,” she said. “A lot of the transportation that use these buses goes to Foster City. But the buses are stored in San Bruno. We are looking at restructuring and locating vehicle maintenance operations in the center of the district.”

Other cuts include the San Mateo Middle College High School, which will be compensated by a College of San Mateo grant. Facility-use and field trip fees will go up. McManus said an additional $130,000 can be saved by hiring at the entry-level status.

On Tuesday, district board members lauded the budget and added that it was a start.

“We need to analyze health benefit costs, utility costs, we need to go further in transportation, and we have overtime issues,” said board trustee Linda Lees Dwyer. “So, as you can see, this is just the beginning.”

bfoley@examiner.com

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