November 28, 2012 / 7:36 PM / 5 years ago

TEXT-Fitch affirms Shasta UHSD, Calif. GOs at 'AA-'

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Nov 28 - Fitch Ratings affirms the 'AA-' rating on the following Shasta
Union High School District (the district), California general obligation (GO)
bonds:

--$11.5 million series 2002 and series 2003 (Election of 2001);
--$10.9 million series 2011.

The Rating Outlook is Stable.

SECURITY

The bonds are secured by unlimited ad valorem property taxes on property within
the district.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

ROBUST GENERAL FUND BALANCE: The district has a strong record of producing
operating surpluses and has maintained solid reserves through the economic down
cycle. Although the district is still vulnerable to state funding volatility,
the passage of Proposition 30 removes some uncertainties in the near term, and
supports healthy fund balances.

AVERAGE DAILY ATTENDANCE (ADA) DECLINE: ADA is continuing a downward trend with
considerable additional student enrollment losses projected for the next few
years. Corresponding cuts in spending will be key to maintaining balance.
District management is fully aware of the challenge, and has been tackling it in
an effective way.

WEAK ECONOMY AND TAX BASE: With a high unemployment rate and a soft real estate
market, the local economy remains weak, despite signs of stability. Assessed
value (AV) has entered the fourth year of decline, down a cumulative 14% from
its peak value.

LOW DEBT BURDEN: The total debt level is low and debt service is affordable.
Around half of the outstanding debt is in capital appreciation bonds, resulting
in ascending but still manageable debt service in the future.

CREDIT PROFILE

SOLID FINANCIAL RESULTS DESPITE CHALLENGES

The district's financial operations have faced considerable headwinds from state
funding cuts, falling ADA, and a still weak economy. Management has shown
competency in prudent budgeting and effective cost control, resulting in fund
balances that are 20% or more of general fund spending since fiscal 2009.
Liquidity has held up strongly, with modified quick ratios above 2 times on
average.

On a pre-GASB No.54 basis, the fiscal 2011 general fund outperformed its budget
and ended with a $1.1 million surplus and a total general fund balance of $15.2
million. This is expected to decline slightly to $14.7 million at fiscal 2012
year-end. Since GASB No.54 required the general fund to be combined with other
funds, the fiscal 2011 audit shows a higher total general fund balance of $22.6
million (52% of spending) and an unrestricted fund balance of $21.2 million (49%
of spending).

Expenditures have consistently been kept below revenues since fiscal 2007,
helping to build up the general fund reserve to a level sufficient to withstand
the assumed budget cuts for the current fiscal year that would have been
triggered if Proposition 30 had failed in the November 2012 state election. Now
with the passage of Proposition 30, the district will likely reduce or avoid
previously forecasted reserve drawdowns in the out-years, keeping its reserve at
a healthy level. Fitch notes that state funding remains volatile with additional
reductions always a possibility. State deferrals could also be a drag on the
district's cash position. In conjunction with the projected ADA declines, these
factors underscore the importance of high reserve levels in maintaining the
district's current credit profile.

COST CUTTING FLEXIBILITY REMAINS

The district has implemented certain cost cutting and revenue enhancing measures
over recent years such as giving early retirement incentives, bringing regional
occupational programs in-house, and freezing salary. The district relied mainly
on attrition and leaving vacancies unfilled to save personnel costs, rather than
instituting furloughs or layoffs. Similarly, no concessions on wages or benefits
have been sought. The district also continues to operate on a 180-day school
year basis, five days above the state minimum. Therefore, Fitch believes that
the district retains flexibility to cope with potential revenue underperformance
and continued enrollment declines.

WEAK ECONOMY AND ADA DOWNWARD TREND

The district covers a large portion of the city of Redding and adjacent
unincorporated areas of Shasta County. Redding is a regional commercial hub in
northern California, and has significant exposure to the government sector, with
the county and the city being its major employers. The local economy has
expanded into service industries, but agriculture and natural resources still
play an important role. As the local economy weakened, the lack of job
opportunities caused out-migration in the district. At the same time,
affordability has not improved to the extent that it attracts new residents.
This has been a prevalent theme in this region. Consequently, student enrollment
dropped significantly by more than 15% from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2012. The
district expects a further loss of around 600 ADA (or 13%) between now and
fiscal 2015.

TAX BASE DETERIORATION

Since the district is largely residential, it was unable to escape the housing
market downturn. Drops in house prices resulted in Proposition 8 adjustments,
depressing assessment values. Although the pace of AV decline has slowed, the
turning point has yet to be reached. On a positive note, foreclosure numbers are
falling, and inventory is being cleared.

LOW DEBT LEVEL

The district refunded all of its outstanding GO current interest debt in 2011 to
take advantage of the favorable interest rate environment. No capital project or
debt issuance is planned in the near future. The overall debt burden is low at
$1,044 per capita, or 1.3% of TAV. Roughly 15% of the total debt bears variable
interest rates. Other post-employment benefit (OPEB) liabilities amount to a
moderate $7.5 million, and the fiscal 2011 debt, pension and OPEB carrying cost
is manageable at 12.7% of total general fund spending. However, with the use of
capital appreciation bonds and expected pension cost increases, total carrying
costs are likely to go up in the future.

Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'. The ratings above
were solicited by, or on behalf of, the issuer, and therefore, Fitch has been
compensated for the provision of the ratings.

In addition to the sources of information identified in Fitch's Tax-Supported
Rating Criteria, this action was additionally informed by information from
Creditscope, University Financial Associates, S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index,
IHS Global Insight, Zillow.com, and National Association of Realtors.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
--'Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (Aug. 14, 2012);
--'U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (Aug. 14, 2012).

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria

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