SMMUSD HDQTRS — Even if voters approve a half percent sales tax increase on Nov. 2 and officials direct half of the new revenue to public schools, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will have exhausted its reserves and will again face cuts by the 2012-13 school year, according to district officials’ latest projections.

SMMUSD Finance Director Jan Maez said the budget recently approved by the state legislature was slightly better than expected for the district this fiscal year because it included a $250 per-student annual payment that had been on the chopping block. (That amount is about 2 percent of the annual pupil payment the district receives from the state).

The “bit of good news,” for this budget year, though, was offset by other reductions in payments to schools during the next two years, Maez said.

SMMUSD began the fiscal year with $17 million in available reserve funds, Maez said, and will have to spend $10 million of that amount to cover expenses this year. With a similar gap between revenues and expenses next school year, the district will be short unless it receives a cash influx from Measure Y.

Even if the measure passes and the district receives about $6 million per year from the increase (half the estimated amount the measure would raise), SMMUSD will be faced with about $5 million in cuts by 2012-13.

“We have a structural deficit that’s beyond the $6 million that Measure Y is promising,” said school board member Oscar de la Torre.

That’s putting added emphasis on money-making ideas that have been floated before but never fully enacted — ideas like licensing the names “Malibu High” or “Santa Monica High” to a clothing company or hiring a professional business development manager to seek partnerships with corporations and solicit donations.

The importance of creating new local revenue streams has been a common refrain at school board candidate forums this year, especially among challengers. But incumbents, including de la Torre, have also spoken about the need for “a renewed effort to bring in outside, non-governmental funds.”

Lost in the discussion, de la Torre said, is the credit the board deserves for safeguarding a reserve fund that is helping forestall cuts.

“Luckily we held onto a healthy reserve that is allowing us to survive in the short term. Without that reserve the cuts would have been a lot more devastating,” he said.

nickt@smdp.com

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