Facing a substantial budget deficit, Brisbane School District officials are considering a range of options that include raising taxes, closing a school or merging with another district.
The 550-student K-8 district faces a $492,000 deficit for the 2011-12 school year — and district officials say that’s after slashing costs and drawing on reserves.
School board member Ken Walker said his body may put a parcel tax hike on the spring ballot to raise short-term funds, but that’s unlikely to solve its long-term financial problems.
So officials are considering merging with the neighboring Bayshore School District, which has financial problems of its own. Funds are so tight in both districts that Brisbane Superintendent Toni Presta also became Bayshore’s superintendent in July.
Presta, who agreed to take the Bayshore job in the hope that the districts merge, is waiting for the results of a county-funded study by School Services of California to see if the merger makes financial sense.
Merging would enable the districts to share staff and follow the state’s master plan for education, which views larger districts as more efficient, Presta said.
But the real upside to any merger is the proposed Brisbane Baylands development, 660 acres of empty land that could one day be developed.
While the city of Brisbane holds the reins on Baylands development, Bayshore schools would stand to gain from property taxes on the land. Bringing the districts together could resolve that divide, said Chad Carvey, principal of Brisbane and Panorama elementary schools. If Brisbane residents agreed to vote for the controversial development and Bayshore agreed to merge districts, then all their schools would have access to the property tax revenue.
In the meantime, former Councilor Michael Barnes said he hopes Baylands’ owner, Universal Paragon Corp., can strike a deal to keep Brisbane’s schools open.
Universal Paragon might agree to advance property tax money to fund Brisbane schools in exchange for assurance from the city that the company will get development rights to Baylands, Barnes said.
“There is such an anti-development feel in Brisbane, just getting those conversations started is very difficult,” Barnes said.
Another solution could be to close one of the district’s three schools. Another ongoing study will look at the pros and cons of closing one of Brisbane’s schools.
Meanwhile, Councilor Clifford Lentz is pushing a plan to convert the Brisbane School District into a unified school district by creating a new high school. Proponents of the idea say that change would enable the district to keep millions of dollars that would otherwise go to the state.
Presta and others have questioned just how much a unified district would save, however.
“The numbers have not been substantiated,” Presta said.
Potential solutions to Brisbane School District’s financial crisis:
Combine Brisbane and Bayshore school districts to cut costs
If voters approve Baylands development, a merged Bayshore-Brisbane district could share taxes levied from the land
Put measure on spring ballot to increase parcel taxes
Seek money from public and local businesses (community members raised around $70,000 for district this year through individual donations, recycling, phone-a-thon and spring gala)
Open new high school and transform into Brisbane Unified School District (K-12) to retain money that might otherwise go to state