The California Department of Education (CDE) declared Monday that the Mariposa County Office of Education and the Mariposa County Unified School District could be in the red in the next two years.
This year, the district is in the black. Next year, the district will post a projected negative ending balance of $202,415. In 2011-2012, the projected balance will be a negative $1,032,000, said Linda Levesque, the chief business officer for Mariposa County Unified School District and the Mariposa County Office of Education.
The list, released Monday, also identified 12 of the state's school districts now unable to pay their expenses.
All the numbers reflect a 17 percent increase in the number of school districts that have expenditures outweighing revenues, CDE officials said.
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For the past two years, the state has cut a total of $17 billion to education, said Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, in a press release.
"School districts already have made draconian cuts to programs and services, eliminated summer school, increased class sizes, and cut art, music, libraries, school nurses and sports," O'Connell said.
The county's education offices' financial instability is caused by declining enrollment, high transportation costs, a costly special education program and difficulties staffing district office positions, Levesque said.
The 13-school district lost 96 students last year, Levesque added, because many students moved out of the area.
Paul Chambers, the Mariposa and Merced County California Teachers Association regional representative, said that because Mariposa County is remote, transportation accounts for a large chunk of the district's budget.
In the past two-and-a-half years, the district has had three chief business officers, excluding Levesque.
"Prior to me getting here, we had a high turnover rate," Levesque said. "That's really detrimental, because you don't have someone closely watching the district."
The county's remoteness has made it difficult to attract people to the job, she added.
In the 2008-2009 school year, 462 of the district's 2,255 students were in special education, according to the CDE.
Special education costs exceeded $500,000, Levesque said.
The school district's budget for this school year is $19.7 million, while the county office of education budget is $3.7 million.
To compensate for the funding cuts, the district laid off 14 teachers in early March, Chambers said.
The district plans to increase class sizes next year to deal with the reductions, Levesque added.
The district has looked into a number of other cost-cutting measures.
One way may be closing a school, Levesque said, but that is a last resort because it's so disruptive to communities.
"I think we can get in the positive," Levesque said. "We just have to keep working on it."
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.