File photo
File photo

SMMUSD HDQTRS — The Board of Education unanimously adopted a $116.8 million budget Wednesday night, a document that incorporates over $1.18 million trimmed from schools and departments.

Despite years of cuts that amount to over 20 percent of the budget and new revenues from a local sales tax and an improving economy, the district will still run a deficit, although it will be smaller than in the past, said Jan Maez, the chief financial officer.

County officials that review school budgets will “probably note it,” but the concern will “not be as strong as in the past,” Maez said.

Overall spending was reduced 3.2 percent from the previous year, according to budget documents. The vast majority of that — 87 percent — goes to salaries and benefits for employees.

Operating expenses take up another 11 percent, and the final 2 percent goes to books and supplies.

That will increase by the next fiscal year, when employee health benefits are expected to bump up another 10 percent, Maez said.

The board had considered a $300,000 cut to the Regional Occupation Program, or ROP, which provides business and training classes to students. Participants run the Vike’s Inn food store on the Santa Monica High School campus, and market floral arrangements built by another class.

Auto shop, which teaches students how to repair cars, also falls under the ROP umbrella.

The program was at risk because of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula proposal, which would have allowed districts across the state greater flexibility in how to spend the money that flows from Sacramento for education.

That changed at the 11th hour, which kept the program safe for at least two years, said Rebel Harrison, director of the ROP Department.

“We have no worries at the district level,” Harrison said, noting that the change took hard work and lobbying from programs across the state.

The problem arose at the June 6 board meeting when the cut was first proposed. The money represented one-third of the program’s funding, and kept teachers in limbo, not knowing if they had a job for August.

ROP students and teachers stayed late that Thursday night to explain to the Board of Education what the loss of ROP would mean to them, despite the fact that they had to be on campus the next day, some for their own graduations.

The future of district finances still shows holes that officials will have to solve as the unrestricted balance in the General Fund — the most flexible money in the district — continues to sink.

That balance dropped by $2.5 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year, and is expected to drop by roughly $1 million each year through 2015-16.

Although districts across the state are still keeping an eye on their cash, the coming year will be a respite from worries about massive cuts from the state government.

Voters approved a new sales tax and increased income taxes on California’s wealthiest in November to pump more money into education, fueled by warnings from the state level that severe cuts to schools were coming.

With it came Brown’s proposal for the Local Control Funding Formula, which was finalized recently by Brown and the state legislature. Brown has yet to sign the compromise budget.

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