SMMUSD HDQTRS — California state government seems intent on getting its own fiscal house in order while making a mess of everyone else’s.

In a rushed budget session, which was confined to a 38-minute window so that it could be approved by the June 30 deadline, school district officials approved a $118,168,289 general fund budget Thursday night.

The vote came a day after the state budget passed that kept funding for K-12 education at 2010-12 school year levels, but only if approximately $4 billion of expected revenue comes through on the state level.

If it does not, the schools could be facing deep cuts by January, when the governor’s office usually releases its budget for the coming year, said Jan Maez, the chief financial officer for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

While mid-year cuts aren’t terribly uncommon in California over the past decade, the legislature did pass one item, the likes of which has never been seen before.

Assembly Bill 114, a 100-page trailer bill attached to the state budget, changes the requirements around the school budgeting process for this year in a big way.

Since its passage Thursday, schools will not have to budget for the 2012-13 or 2013-14 school years, as previously required, and county government was stripped of its oversight for those subsequent two years.

Normally, the county department of education approves or denies budgets based on a three-year projection meant to show the long-term stability of school expenditures.

The new rules make it easier to get budgets passed, even for relatively well-off districts like SMMUSD.

In all, the budget predicts the district will spend $3.6 million more than it brings in during the 2011-12 school year, and nearly $4.3 million in the 2012-13 year.

Officials had worried at previous meetings that the L.A. County Office of Education might take issue with budgets that included those levels of consistent deficit spending.

“They say in 114 that the second and third years of multi-year projections aren’t really important in this cycle,” Maez told board members Thursday.

The bill also requires the schools to assume that funding will stay flat, even though the legislature promised that if revenues come in $2 billion or more below estimates, schools will face deep cuts.

Schools also lost the ability to lay off teachers in August under the legislation.

In effect, Maez said, the legislation takes what people look at as fiscal responsibility in school districts off the table by restricting the ability to plan for the future.

The passage of the state budget did, however, put a temporary end to questions of how to proceed with the budget for the coming school year, which had seen threats to the tune of a $350 to $650 cut in per-student per-day state funding.

Although that money was restored, the school district is still spending money on items that were covered by one-time federal funding and the $1.3 million Save Our Schools campaign, including some positions and class size reductions.

In addition, $2.2 million that was saved by working five unpaid furlough days into the schedule will be paid out again unless the district manages to come to an agreement with labor groups.

Those furlough days, in place for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, expired on June 30.

Deborah Moore Washington, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, announced that the district would be entering negotiations with bargaining groups to get five furlough days for the coming school year.

The Board of Education approved the budget four minutes before the midnight deadline, and with relatively little discussion because of the time constraints resulting from the length of an earlier item dealing with an alleged hate crime at Santa Monica High School.

It was rushed, but there were no surprises given the updates the district has received in the months leading up to the vote, said board member Nimish Patel.

“I felt comfortable with it,” he said. “It’s not something we were just starting to get up to speed with that night.”

The board still needs to take a long, hard look at the millions of dollars in projected deficit spending for each coming school year, Patel said.

On a more cheerful fiscal note, the board approved earlier in the evening several measures that came as the result of years of effort to fund the schools and improve campus facilities.

The board signed off on an agreement between the school district and City Hall to share the sports facilities at Santa Monica High School that fulfills the promise of measures Y and YY.

The two measures appeared on the November 2010 ballot. Measure Y raised the transaction and use tax on most purchases by half a percent. YY, an advisory measure, signaled voters’ intent that half of that money go to the school district.

To transfer money to the schools legally, City Hall needed some kind of benefit so that it would not appear to be giving away public money without getting something in return.

Officials from the district and City Hall created a contract that lets the general public use the sports fields at Samohi when school is not in session in return for funding for the next 30 years.

The City Council approved the same agreement at a May 26 budget session.

“Everybody in this town loves to get out and play, and we want our kids to play,” said board member Ralph Mechur. “We will work together to make us a stronger community as a whole.”

Board members also approved an agreement with City Hall to use $57 million in Redevelopment Agency money to begin work on the Civic Center Joint Use Project, a three-phase process to revamp and build sports and science resources on the Samohi campus.

The first project, officially slated to begin July 5, will be to replace the football field with synthetic turf.

Also included in the first phase of the project are plans rehab the Greek Theatre and demolish an old gym facility and replace it with a larger facility containing new basketball and volleyball courts, dance and yoga rooms, a pep studio and support buildings like restrooms, showers and dressing areas.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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