<b>IN THE RED:</b> Caught off guard by accounting errors and rising costs, Hope Elementary School District has launched an emergency recovery plan. “This will not happen again,” said Superintendent Anne Hubbard (above) at a recent town hall meeting with parents and teachers.
Paul Wellman

The unfortunate and necessary gutting of jobs at Hope Elementary School District ​— ​now roughly $800,000 in the hole from past budgeting errors and increasing special education costs ​— ​is focused on hourly employees, with instructional aides, librarians, and janitors taking the biggest hits as the district embarks on a two-year recovery plan. The proposed cuts are under review by the district’s Board of Trustees, administrators, and an independent fiscal analyst, and are scheduled to be finalized at an October 6 hearing. Soon thereafter, 60-day notices will be sent out to specified employees.

In the meantime, parent-led efforts are also underway to help right the district’s financially sinking ship. “The good news is that we have a lot of active and talented people on the ground to address this, in hopes of hiring [people] back,” said Superintendent Anne Hubbard. Longtime boardmember Tony Winterbauer added that the newly revitalized Hope School District Educational Foundation is fundraising “to bring back the services we need as soon as possible,” perhaps as early as January.

While teachers have offered to take pay cuts, their positions, like those under contract at the administrative level, are untouchable until next year, when salaries will again be open for negotiation with union representatives at the table, Hubbard said. The idea to shut down one of the district’s three elementary campuses has also been floated ​— ​as it was during the Great Recession ​— ​but that option would take at least a year to unfold and cost $100,000, according to boardmembers.

The big hit that wasn’t properly accounted for by the district’s retired business manager, Sandy Doria, has been the spiking cost in special-education services. For example, as the district has taken on special-ed students previously handled entirely or shared by the Santa Barbara County Education Office, and as sheer numbers of such students have increased with broader definitions of special needs, associated costs have gone up 57 percent since 2014, according to Jestin St. Peter, the district’s psychologist and special-ed coordinator.

Operating on a $10 million budget, nearly 90 percent of which is funded through property taxes, the district serves 1,000 kids at three elementary schools ​— ​Hope Elementary School, Monte Vista School, and Vieja Valley School.


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