La Verne Magazine
Spring 1999

"Education in La Verne"

$56 Million and Not a Cent to Spare

by Robert Parry
photography by Veero Der-Karabetian


There are 22 busses and vans used during a regular workday in the Bonita Unified School District. About once a week, usually around 4:10 p.m., district bus driver Beverly Gaunt can be found polishing her own image as she cleans her bus. Gaunt has been driving busses for BUSD since 1989; she wants her passengers to ride in comfort and security as they travel to and from school. Of the 13 schools to which these busses travel, Gaunt's bus is one of only two properly equipped for wheelchair access.

The Bonita Unified School District is not what would normally be considered a hot bed of newsworthy activity. Until recently, conflict and strife were irregular oddities on the landscape.

But in this small, generally quiet community district, major decisions involving money with high stakes are made on a daily basis.

With just under 70,000 residents in its 30 square mile area, BUSD serves the cities of La Verne and San Dimas. A total of 10,033 students (about one of every seven residents in the district) populate its 13 school campuses. They are instructed by a total of 462 teachers who are backed by a support staff of 350 classified employees. These include janitors, cooks, teacher's aides, coaches and secretaries, as well as 16 confidential and director-level employees.

The district is managed by Superintendent Dr. John Rieckewald and his staff of 26 administrators, including 13 principals, nine assistant principals and four assistant superintendents. Among the latter is Michelle McClowery, assistant superintendent for business services.

If business is not commonly associated with education, a deeper exploration of the operation of such an institution is required. McClowery's job, essentially, is to keep the district's wheels rolling smoothly as it moves throughout the year. This includes the 108 wheels on the district's 18 large yellow school busses and the four vans also in the fleet.

As is the case in any business, the most important concern for a school district is the amount of funds that flow in and out of doors.

BUSD, like a majority of districts, operates on a July 1 to June 30 budget cycle. The total 1998-99 budget for the district calls for $55.9 million in expenditures, a deficit of more than $1.1 million over total revenues of $54.8 million.

Planning for the coming year's budget begins in earnest in February. But, in reality, tracking monitoring, adjusting and predicting the budget is a year-round activity.

The majority of the district's funds come from the state of California -- most in the form of "unrestricted" revenues, available for any use the School Board deems worthy.

About $14 million in "restricted funds" is earmarked for 33 specific projects of various types and can only be used for those needs.

Those 33 allotments range in size from $17,758 (for 10th-grade counseling) to $6.69 million (for special education programs).

Although $40 million of unrestricted funds may seem huge, there are many unavoidable expenses presented with the more than 750 Bonita district employees. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that the largest single expense line-item in the district's budget is for salaries.

In addition, most employees are eligible for health insurance and other industry-standard benefits. This year, BUSD's teachers and managers will be paid a total of $28.5 million, an average of $45,000 each, says McLowery. Benefits alone will cost the district another $7 million. Add in the $6 million for classified employees, and there is nothing left of those unrestricted funds.

While the restricted funds cover some of those salary figures and free up unrestricted funds, it does not leave much leeway.

Operating a fleet of 18 busses costs money for gas, tires, maintenance and depreciation. Repairing and maintaining 14 facilities-each covering several acres and filled with accident-prone children-runs up bills for lockers, paint, carpeting, cleaning, hand soap and paper towels.

In addition, feeding nearly 10,000 students every day costs money. Just ask any parent.

After all that, the District still must have enough money for the basic tools of education. Necessities like textbooks and workbooks for students-as well as master books for teachers-chairs, desks and chalkboards must be in every classroom everyday.

Ever present are bills for the electricity, water and telephone services, etc. And somehow, the School Board as district staff must try to put away a little money for those inevitable, unexpected expenses.

This year, BUSD is running a deficit of $1.4 million, or about 3 percent of its total budget.

$56 million dollars, and not a cent to spare.

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