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With new revenues came new spending at San Diego County’s largest public school districts.

From San Diego Unified to Poway Unified to Chula Vista Elementary, officials upped their spending dramatically in recent years, budget documents show. Some — like San Diego Unified — must now slow their roll to pay the bills next year.

After years of volatility, school districts finally saw new revenues come in thanks to voter-approved statewide tax increases on the wealthy and changes to the way public schools are funded.

A look back at more than 10 years of general fund revenues and expenses at the county’s five largest school districts reveals some got into the habit of spending more than they received, while others walked the line as closely as possible. Some are only now kicking deficit spending into high gear.

Every district — except one — is planning to drain the reserve fund to near-minimum levels to accommodate increased spending in the next two years, budget records show.

As we’ve reported, San Diego Unified is bracing for $116.6 million in cuts after awarding 4 percent employee raises that take effect this school year.

Here’s a reminder of how the budget history has looked at the biggest district in San Diego County, which serves 129,000 students.

San Diego Unified

Here’s a look at how the budgets at the county’s other large districts have fared.

Sweetwater Union High School District

Sweetwater Union High School District’s general fund revenues dipped to a low of less than $342 million in 2012-13, but have since risen by more than $113 million to $455 million this year.

Expenses during the same four-year period rose by $127 million, budget documents show.

Though spending and revenues both rose substantially in recent years, Sweetwater officials are planning for more conservative spending next year.

The district — which serves 41,000-students across South County — is the only large district projecting growth of the reserve fund next year, budgeting an increase of $5.6 million to bring it to $37 million, before dropping just below $35.4 million in 2018-19 — an amount still above the state’s 2 percent minimum, at 7.6 percent.

This is the healthiest reserve projected in the next two years among the five districts.

Sweetwater is the only district that failed to produce budget documents for 2005-06 through 2011-12; its documents reflect 2012-13 to present.

Poway Unified School District

In Poway Unified, which serves 35,700 students, general fund revenues have grown from $252 million in 2011-12 to more than $365 million this year. That’s an increase of $113 million, or 45 percent in five years.

At the same time, expenses rose by $130 million, or 53 percent compared to 2011-12.

Poway’s reserve fund is projected to end the year at $35 million, or 9.25 percent. The district plans to continue spending the fund down in the next two years, leaving just $8.25 million in 2018-19, or 2.23 percent, budget documents show.

Chula Vista Elementary School District

Chula Vista’s elementary school expenses have risen sharply since 2013-14, when general fund costs totaled just $193.4 million. This year, expenses total $267 million, an increase of more than $73.5 million or 38 percent.

Revenues also climbed during the same period from $201 million to nearly $258 million, an increase of 28 percent.

The district — which serves 30,000 students — plans to outspend its revenues this year and the next two years and will turn to the reserve fund to help fill the gap.

Chula Vista has the healthiest reserve out of all five districts by a large margin, rounding out at more than $47.8 million — 17.9 percent — by the end of this year. That figure will drop precipitously though, landing at $30.8 million next year and $10.8 million in 2018-19, or 3.89 percent, budget documents show. The reserve must remain above 3 percent, given the size of the district.

All employees recently got a 6 percent raise this year, and some got other boosts in compensation.

Vista Unified School District

After toeing the rising revenue line closely for years, the 25,000-student Vista Unified School District plans to outspend general fund revenues by nearly $20 million this year, much more than years’ past.

General fund revenues are expected to top $242 million, while spending will exceed $262 million. That’s 34 percent and 41 percent higher than four years ago, respectively.

The district plans to reduce its reserve fund from $12.2 million this year, or 5 percent, to $7.77 million by the end of 2018-19, or 3 percent, budget documents show.

Source: All past budget figures are from district unaudited actuals reports. Current year and future year projections are from first interim 2016-17 budget reports released this month. Sweetwater Union High School District provided budget documents for 2012-13 to present, but none of the older reports.

Ashly McGlone

Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org...

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