SCOE hashes out new financial plan with Weed Union School District: Here's what it will do
The Siskiyou County Office of Education is helping the Weed Union School District stay in a fiscally safe place after it told the district last spring it wouldn't be able to meet its financial obligations in 2022.
Worry the district's budget might derail it financially stemmed from debt the district incurred, according to Deputy Assistant Superintendent Allan Carver said. It borrowed money from its reserves to build a new campus for Weed Elementary School.
With a shortfall of more than $2.8 million, and more than $8 million in debt, the district would be unable to meet its contractual commitments during the 2022 school year, according to a letter sent to the district last February from Siskiyou Superintendent of Schools Kermith Walters.
Now SCOE is overseeing the school district's finances to help it get back on track.
The governing body is implementing a fiscal Stabilization Roadmap, Carver said. Here is what the new plan requires the Weed Union School District to do:
- No more spending, for now. The plan puts a "full stop" on the district accruing any more building project debt. The stop is in effect until the office of education and the district finish compiling a detailed account of the district's current debts from the construction project.
- Previous work must be paid in full. The school district is required to pay contractors for work performed up to Aug. 5, using cash already earmarked for the building project.
- Economize. The district needs to reexamine the school building project for possible ways to cut costs without compromising safety. It has to do this without losing grant money the Office of Public School Construction is giving the district to build the school.
- Make a new budget. Once the school district knows how much the revised project will cost, it needs to try to cover all costs with "available guaranteed funding," Carver said. If the district can't manage that, "further appropriate action will be taken."
For now, Weed Elementary School teachers will continue to conduct classes in modular buildings, Carver said.
Toxic black mold infestations and structural problems in five out of six of the district's buildings made them unsafe for students, Weed Union School District Superintendent Jon Ray said in May. “No one was coming to our calls of distress and help," so the district took things into its own hands and moved students into portable classrooms.
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In autumn 2021, the district learned cost to repair the old school buildings would be more than half the school’s value, Ray said, so the school board opted for a $32 million rebuild rather than make repairs.
He requested a loan from the office of education in October 2021 — the same month the district broke ground on the new campus, Ray said. The county didn’t have the money, so the district kept borrowing from its reserves.
That borrowing was what put the Weed Union School District in financial trouble, Walters said, not the actual cost of the rebuild.
Ray said he expects to receive more grant money from the state to fund the building project on Oct. 3 after he meets with the state allocation board: As much as $17 million.
Jessica Skropanic is a features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers science, arts, social issues and entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.