Although experts have suggested that the national, state and local economies may turn around in 2010, it won't happen soon enough for the Hesperia Unified School District.


The state of California is facing a $20 billion deficit, according to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and public school districts, including the HUSD, will again suffer as a result. (The HUSD receives approximately 70 percent of its revenue from the state.)


"We're being attacked by the state, in financial terms," Superintendent Mark McKinney said Friday. The HUSD is both the Victor Valley's largest school district and its single largest employer, with approximately 21,000 students and just under 2,000 employees.


The state has "an ongoing cash flow problem that they've pushed onto us," said Assistant Superintendent of Business Services.


For instance, the state is deferring $14 million that they're paying the HUSD back to October, the equivalent of paying a bill with a post-dated check. And $14 million is more than one month's payroll and benefits for HUSD employees.


"Because of the state, we have to do the same thing and get short-term loans," said McKinney.


Despite the "financial storm" that led to 119 teachers being laid off last year, McKinney praised the work employees have been doing.


"We're seeing academic growth in all of our schools, as measured by [Academic Performance Index rating]," said McKinney. "Employees have really buckled down."


As with the national economy, the HUSD's budget situation is improving to the extent that things are getting less bad, if not actually better. This year's deficit was approximately $14 million, while next year's is projected to be $8 million. (The school district budgets around a fiscal year that starts in July, when school is out of session.)


But the district has already cut most of its expenses in the last two years, leaving few places left to cut.


"Ninety percent of our general fund costs," as opposed to categorical funds that must be spent on expenses like building construction or educational supplies, "are salaries and benefits," said McLaughlin.


And that means some sort of cut, whether to salaries and benefits, work days, or something else is in the offing -- or there will need to be layoffs in the 2010-2011 school year.


"Quite honestly, everything's on the table," said McKinney.


Approximately 90 percent of HUSD employees are represented by one of two unions, and making any cuts other than layoffs requires the unions agreeing to revise their current contracts.


Any agreement will have to come soon: Under state law, school districts have until March 15 each year to advise teachers that their services might not be needed in the coming year. (In theory, that's so that they can find jobs in other districts -- a difficult proposition in 2010, when districts across California are in the same boat.) The school board has set a deadline of Feb. 8 for negotiations to conclude, before they begin working out which employees will be laid off to close any remaining budget gap.


In the worst-case scenario -- assuming that the Hesperia Teachers Association and California School Employees Association refuse to agree to any cuts -- up to 130 employees will receive pink slips, according to McKinney. More specifically, 70 to 80 teachers, 30 to 40 school staff and eight to 10 managers, in line with the percentage of each category of employee in the district.


Although there is no law or contract requiring the district lay off employees according to the 70 percent, 20 percent and 10 percent split that teachers, staff and management make up, McKinney thinks it's the best way to go, should layoffs be required again this year.


"I think it's just the fair approach," he said. "There ought to be an equal distribution of cuts."


Some residents have suggested the district cut managers first.


"There's always the adage that you're too top-heavy," said McKinney. "We're well below the state average [for management employees]. For a district of our size, we're very lean."


In accordance with state law, the district has some reserves, and the percentage of their budget actually exceeds state requirements. But they amount to a little more than $5 million, enough to pay the salaries and benefits of half of the HUSD's employees for a single month.


As for good news, there is some, sort of.


"I am optimistic that we're at the bottom" of the economic downturn, said McLaughlin.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/HesperiaStar.