SMMUSD HDQTRS — Facing a projected $12 million deficit, school district officials have raised the possibility of furloughs as they try to hammer out new contract agreements with teachers and other employees.

“It is in discussion,” said Ralph Mechur, a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board member. “It’s part of the contract negotiations that are ongoing.”

Mechur and SMMUSD board President Barry Snell declined to discuss the specifics of the talks because contract negotiations are confidential. But both men acknowledged the district is looking at every aspect of its budget to try to limit the impact of the deficit on students.

“Obviously, we’re taking a look at every area,” Snell said, noting that about 85 percent of the district’s budget goes toward salaries and benefits.

“Any kind of reduction in salary and benefits without losing the quality of teachers and programs is what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.

Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association President Harry Keily on Tuesday could not be reached for comment on the contract negotiations.

The district receives an additional $2,257 per student from local sources, which includes parcel tax measures and money from both the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica.

The national average for per pupil spending last year was approximately $10,850, while the average for California was $9,921. On the higher end of the spectrum is New Jersey where the per pupil spending was around $16,000.

Approximately 72 percent of the district’s revenue comes from the state.

In its budget report released this month, the district identified $8.7 million in cuts that would be required next year unless a new parcel tax or new savings plan changes the financial picture.

The proposed cuts would mean class size increases in all grades, fewer district positions in areas like counseling, security and nursing, fewer summer programs for students and a total reduction of 112.5 district jobs.

The cuts would “effectively dismantle education in Santa Monica and Malibu,” said Rebecca Kennerly, who chairs the organization Community for Excellent Public Schools. “None of them are acceptable.”

Kennerly and other public school supporters are pinning their hopes on passing an emergency parcel tax to boost district coffers.

An SMMUSD committee is studying the feasibility of passing the tax and will report its findings to the SMMUSD board Jan. 14. The state is scheduled to issue its budget recommendation to the district on Jan. 10.

While the weak economy and already generous contributions to the district by locals through an existing parcel tax and a more than $7 million City Hall payment could make voters less likely to support an additional tax, many district supporters see the tax as the only way to avoid steep cuts to programs.

“Even if the support isn’t as strong as it’s been in the past I just think it’s important to let people know how much is at stake,” Kennerly said.

“A successful parcel tax passage really changes the climate with some of the reductions we may have to make,” Snell said.

But even if the tax makes it onto a ballot and gets voters’ approval, it’s likely the additional revenue would only narrow the district’s budget gap by $5 million to $6 million, Snell said.

The district’s Financial Oversight Committee meanwhile has proposed a series of revenue enhancement programs, but committee chair Cynthia Torres acknowledges that outside of creating a new tax, all of the proposals are “speculative” and would take several years to produce returns.

The committee’s ideas include licensing the names “Santa Monica High” and/or “Malibu High” for merchandise, boosting marketing efforts for district facilities like the Samohi Memorial Greek Amphitheater and conducting a publicity campaign to boost student attendance.

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