Budget agreement eludes Woodland Hills school board

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At a special meeting Wednesday night, an $85.3 million budget that would eliminate 13 teaching positions in the Woodland Hills School District failed on a vote of 2-5-1.

Board president Robert Tomasic and members Colleen Filiak, Selena Johnson, Marilyn Messina and Tara Reis voted against the fiscal plan, while board member Ava Johnson abstained.

Superintendent Alan Johnson said before the meeting that while student enrollment has decreased by more than 20 percent since the 2000-01 school year, staffing has decreased at a much lower rate. The budget proposed furloughing nine teachers and eliminating four other teaching positions through attrition. He said the cuts would save the district $722,655.

Mr. Johnson said the district chooses from a pool of furloughed teachers to fill district vacancies throughout the year, so some could return to part- or full-time staff positions.

"We haven't reduced staffing proportionally to our student enrollment decline,” Mr. Johnson said. “Obviously we'd like to keep student-teacher ratios as low as we can, but funds are down and we have to be prudent to optimize our ratios of staff to students, and furloughs will help us do that."

But Ms. Messina said during the meeting that she could not support reducing the faculty by so many teachers.

“I feel that if it goes back to the administration, they could work something out,” she said. “I’m not voting to furlough those people.”

The budget would keep the millage rate at 22.40 mills, but some board members said they could not support a budget that provides no oversight of delinquent tax collections and legal fees. During the meeting, Ms. Reid read aloud a statement prepared by Mr. Tomasic that maintained that the proposed budget contained over $500,000 in legal fees.

“With the proper oversight, I believe that these fees could be reduced by 30%,” Mr. Tomasic’s statement said. “I cannot ask our taxpayers to pay taxes when we have so many individuals who do not pay any taxes, yet they are able to live here or collect rent on a property for over several years without paying any taxes.”

Ms. Reis echoed Mr. Tomasic’s concerns.

“I know we’re not recommending a tax increase and I’m grateful for that but [with] the amount we have in delinquent taxes and what we get in return – we need something better,” she said during the meeting.

As a result, Ms. Reis motioned to seek proposals for a new firm to analyze the district’s delinquent taxes. The board voted 5-3 in favor of the motion, with board member Fred Kuhn, Ms. Selena Johnson, and Ms. Messina dissenting.

After the meeting, Ms. Reis said she would be willing to vote yes on the budget as is, considering that the motion to solicit the tax-delinquency proposal had passed.

The board will meet again at 7 p.m.Monday to consider the budget, which must be approved by that date to meet state requirements.

Clarece Polke contributed.

Clarece Polke contributed. First Published June 25, 2014 11:20 PM

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