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George Neely discusses public meeting on Lodi Unified School District’s budget

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Posted: Friday, May 6, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 12:15 pm, Fri May 6, 2011.

The Lodi Unified School District board of trustees is doing things differently this year.

In addition to soliciting public input on anticipated budget cuts through a suggestion box and a special email address, trustees decided to hold a first-ever pre-budget workshop. At that time, they are expected to prioritize which programs should be kept off the proverbial chopping block.

Board president George Neely recently answered a series of questions about Saturday's public meeting.

Q: Where did the idea for the May 7 board workshop come from?

A: The idea for the meeting evolved out of the process we decided to take this year to handle our budget issues.

At our first meeting, the board reached out to get input from our district employees and the public. Our efforts have been very successful. We have received suggestions from our website, board meetings, emails, letters and even from our suggestion box. Suggestions came from LUSD employees and the public. We have received hundreds of replies.

Now, we need to have time as a board to discuss and evaluate the suggestions.

Q: How is this year's process to approve the annual budget different than in the past?

A: In the past, the budget was presented to the board at a regular board meeting during the first meeting in June. At that time, the public made their comments, and the board listened and gave the staff direction.

During the second meeting in June, staff would bring the budget back for adoption. At that time, there was more input from the public and the board could make more changes.

In the past two years, those meetings have gone late into the night as the board struggled with some very important decisions.

This year, our objective is to have more time for board members to evaluate the budget, and give the staff guidance and time to produce the best budget to bring back to us in June.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish at the public session?

A: We are facing a decline in operating budget due to two factors: reduced base funds from the state and a declining enrollment. Cuts to our expenses have to be made.

One of the problems we have is the size of that reduction is not yet known. It could be anywhere from a few million dollars to over $25 million. Because of this, the board will have to look at prioritizing reductions to the budget. Our goal is to give LUSD staff the guidance they will need to put together a budget in any budget situation.

Q: Will trustees be making any actual decisions?

A: This is a study session. There will be no actual decisions made.

We will be giving the staff direction on our budget goals. The staff will then take that direction and produce a budget to bring back to the board once we have an actual revenue figure.

Q: What types of issues do you anticipate will be discussed at the workshop?

A: We will be discussing things like class size, administration, school services, transportation, sport and support structure. I expect these topics to come to us from the Superintendent's Budget Advisory Committee as well as staff and public input.

Board members will be able to discuss their priorities and, if needed, attempt to convince other board members to support those priorities.

Q: Do you want community members to attend? Why or why not?

A: As with all of our study sessions, the public is invited to attend. The May 7 meeting will be a great opportunity for those concerned to view how their elected officials are carrying out one of the important parts of the job they were elected to do.

Q: What can they expect?

A: During the study session, the board will not be seeking public input. It will be the time for us to take all of the input we have received and put it together. The public can expect to see discussions between the board members about our priorities for the district. They can expect to hear discussion between the board, the superintendent, the chief business officer and other cabinet members about cuts and expenditures.

There is a great deal that must be worked out before we move forward with the budget process. That is why this meeting is beginning at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

The workshop will be held this week at the James Areida Education Support Center, 1305 E. Vine St.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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