By Victoria Martinez

Faced with an 8.5 percent decline in student enrollment, the school board in the Buellton Union School District on Feb. 14 approved budget reductions equivalent to three and a half teaching and counseling positions.

“This isn’t anyone’s fault,” Superintendent Dr. Randal Haggard said. “We have a fantastic staff … we are doing a lot of things right.”

The enrollment loss, which includes the graduation of an unusually large eighth-grade class in June, has led to an expected loss of more than $400,000 in revenue, Haggard said.

The district also expects additional staffing reductions in subsequent years based on current and projected enrollment numbers.

As of Feb. 6, the district had 567 students enrolled in its Oak Valley Elementary and Jonata Middle schools, 46 fewer than on the same date in 2017.

The district receives state funds on the basis of average daily attendance,  so “when we lose students, we lose funding,” Haggard added.

At the meeting, the board approved reducing staff by two and a half classroom teachers and partial reductions in staffing for physical education, counseling, and reading and math intervention, for a continuing savings of $220,000.

The Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) has also noted BUSD’s need for budget reductions.

In a standard midyear financial analysis of the district’s current and future fiscal years, BUSD officials were told it was in the district’s best interest to continue close monitoring of their budget, minimize costs, and evaluate possible budget reductions now to prevent the need for more drastic measures in the future.

“Any expenditure reductions made now will have a compounding beneficial effect over the multi-year period, thereby reducing the need for even deeper cuts in a future year,” SBCEO officials stated in the document.

Haggard has said, however, that the district is looking at a number of ways to preserve positions and increase revenue, describing the current situation as a “fluid environment.”

“Our goal is to maintain programs and quality instruction,” Haggard said.

In January, the board approved an early retirement incentive for teachers. At the same meeting, they also approved the funding to study the feasibility of putting a parcel tax before voters on a ballot. Parcel taxes are commonly seen as one of the few ways for school districts in California to increase revenue.

Last month, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved putting a proposed $79 parcel tax for Santa Barbara’s Hope School District on the June election ballot, which would be expected to raise $360,000 annually.

The Buellton district is also in discussions with Vista Del Mar Union School District about the possibility of Vista De Las Cruces School sending its seventh- and eighth-graders to Jonata Middle School because of the Gaviota school’s own budget woes.

The issue will return to the board for further discussion on March 7. Any affected staff will be notified of the possibility by March 15, though no reductions will be finalized until May 15.