District budget: what it is and how it works

Ashley Christopher, Opinion Editor

Many students are aware of things occurring at their school such as dances, sports events and all of the latest announcements. One aspect however that almost always goes overlooked is money in the school district. When it comes to district spending patterns, how much do you truly know?

What exactly is a school district budget? According to the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) website, a school district budget is “an annual plan for maintaining the financial health of the organization.” California state law requires each district to adopt a balanced budget each year, ensuring two main things: the district knows how much money it has to work with and how they plan to spend it.

The past few years have drastically transformed the distribution of money in the district. With new changes in mandates requiring TUSD to pay more for its employers’ retirement benefit packages, the district is taking special attention to ensure money is being spent wisely. This funding concern has also led to some cuts in jobs, vehicle operation costs and even district rodent control (which is now under district employee control rather than an independent company). These measures have helped maintain our districts financial stability, but for how long?

Many students from West High to Tracy and Kimball have noticed several of their classes fall victim to cuts this past school year. Though West has been fortunate enough to bring back its much-loved Human Rights and Speech and Debate classes, classes at other schools remain lost such as Kimball’s Jazz Band and Orchestra. This leaves students and teachers alike wondering if their program or class is next on the hit list.

TUSD states that its budget is built by “analyzing the cost of current programs, assessing the effectiveness of those programs and reviewing proposals for new programs, then recommending expenditures to support those programs that best align with the district’s strategic plan.” While this may sound daunting, it basically means that the district looks at data and makes calls based off what they see. Dr. Casey Goodall, the Associate Superintendent of Business Services , oversees this plan.

According to Dr. Goodall, Tracy Unified School District is a “relatively wealthy school district,” in the eyes of the state. This being said, an astonishing 59 percent, nearly two-thirds of all students in the district, qualify for free/reduced lunch, are in the foster system or are English learners. By state requirements, a significant portion of the district budget is directed towards this population of students. Interestingly enough, our district, along with many others in the state, is caught in a paradox. Dr. Goodall explained that “[the state] is giving us money saying ‘Make sure to spend this on these kids. By the way, we’re going to raise your spending amount here [on teacher retirement funds]. Good luck.’” However, when asked if TUSD was financially stable, Dr. Goodall expressed this to be the case.

When it comes to spending specifically at West High, Principal Zachary Boswell works alongside the school site council and Budget Manager Donna Ensor to support West High all around. “We want to stick to our school goals: a safe learning environment, student success… particularly closing the achievement gap.” Boswell encourages students to voice their desires by attending council meetings. “They are open forums for everyone… if you have something you want to talk about, it is a really good place to go and voice your opinion.” These meetings are held in IMC-2 at 3:10 pm on the fourth Tuesday of every month.