The Santa Monica-Malibu school district Board of Education stared down a $7.4-million deficit during its recent review of the preliminary budget for the 2015-16 school year.

The projected deficit weighing on the unrestricted $94.9-million general fund budget is due in part to a combination of proposed increases in special education and district-level staffing.

Special education

Of particular concern to district officials and board members were the new special ed positions proposed in the budget.

The 2015-16 outlook adds the equivalent of about seven new full-time certificated teachers to the department, including two specifically for Samohi, two focusing on social skills and one each for toddlers, specialized instruction and students with hearing disabilities.

The recommendations — made by the district’s special ed director, Sara Woolverton — amount to about a 7-percent increase in the district’s special ed teaching staff and a roughly $2-million strain on the budget.

Officials said they believe a thorough review of the special education department’s needs is warranted.

“You can’t offer every program at every school — it’s not fiscally advisable,” district Supt. Sandra Lyon said.

Jan Maez, the district’s chief financial officer, suggested cuts of up to $2 million across the $30-million program but added that staff must be mindful of state and other regulations.

“We seem to be growing this program, but the number of students in this program isn’t growing at the same rate,” she said. “We really think this needs to be looked at a little more closely before we adopt a final budget.”

District staffing

Part of the projected deficit is due to the creation of several new administrative, managerial and other positions throughout the district.

In the educational services department, a new director and administrative assistant are expected to be added to facilitate the ongoing rollout of Measure ES upgrades. The voter-backed bond measure approved $385 million in technology and infrastructure improvements at Santa Monica and Malibu schools.

The district is also looking to hire two teachers for two-year special assignments involving technology.

The budget factors in a full-time senior office specialist in the human resources department. The position had previously been cut to half-time.

The business services department is seeking an executive director of facilities. A similar position was cut about six years ago in the department, which currently has six directors and two managers as well as an associate superintendent and an administrative assistant.

Also in the budget is a new full-time supervisor in the maintenance/construction division.

“We’re hoping that, by adding a supervisor, we can move work orders more quickly through the system,” Maez said.

The proposed creation of 5.125 additional full-time employees in the buildings/grounds department also weighs on the preliminary budget.

At least some of the custodians would be designated for Santa Monica High School, including the science and technology building that is scheduled to open this fall.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, or on Twitter.

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