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The next budget for Napa’s public school network will close a $3.1 million deficit. But other steps will be needed – possibly including staff cuts and closures of some smaller schools – to cope with shrinking enrollment and a resulting decrease in state funding, according to education officials.

Board members of the Napa Valley Unified School District will vote Thursday night on a budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that aims to reverse several years of deficits, while preventing dwindling reserves from dropping to a level that would trigger an insolvency declaration and a state takeover of its finances.

To keep school finances in balance, the district will consider closing some of its smallest elementary schools, as well as reducing teacher and staff counts to match a declining student count, according to budget documents published Friday.

Among the smaller schools that will be under review are Yountville, Mount George, West Park and Alta Heights.

NVUSD added it will consider pursing a bond issue or a parcel tax during the 2020 elections to further boost revenue.

Unlike in recent years, Napa Valley Unified stands to receive more in 2020-21 than it pays out, with $161.4 million in revenue against $160 million of expenditures. In the fiscal year that ends June 30, expenses are running to $163.5 million while revenue totals $160.3 million – a shortfall that lowers NVUSD reserves to 3.6 percent of its budget, just above the 3 percent level California school districts must maintain to avoid being declared insolvent. (By comparison, district reserves stood at 8 percent in 2014.)

The district forecasts an increase in its reserve level to 4 percent in 2020.

Despite such progress, district officials said more work will be needed to deal with perhaps the school district’s most intractable problem – a steady shrinkage of enrollment expected to continue into the mid-2020s, from nearly 18,000 students to fewer than 16,000. Under California’s school funding formula, local districts are funded according to their average daily attendance, causing smaller head counts to directly affect revenue.

Cost-saving changes in the 2019-20 budget include cutting 60 teaching positions, reducing food-service staffing and eliminating the seven-period schedule at middle schools, Superintendent Rosanna Mucetti wrote in a letter emailed to school parents earlier this month outlining NVUSD’s financial challenges.

In May, the district announced that groundbreaking of American Canyon’s second middle school could be put on hold because it lacked the $2.2 million a year to operate the campus without cutting other programs.

Furthermore, the district will consider closing some elementary schools with fewer than about 300 children per campus. An advisory committee is slated to study the issue this summer, with meetings planned during the fall at potentially affected schools ahead of a possible decision.

An informational meeting on the future of smaller NVUSD campuses has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at district headquarters at 2425 Jefferson St., with invitations sent to the families of students at the Yountville, Mount George, West Park and Alta Heights schools, Mucetti said Wednesday.

The forum will be livestreamed at the district’s website, nvusd.org.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.