Sandra Lyon

The Santa Monica-Malibu school board voted Monday to approve the district’s budget and priorities for 2015-16 amid discussions about diversity and how the district should address achievement gaps.

The district is projecting about a $1.3-million surplus, the result of a budget that includes approximately $138 million in revenue and about $136.7 million in expenditures and transfers.

But the budget’s approval comes at a time of ongoing transition for the district, which is taking on more and more responsibility in handling state funds over a several-year period through the Local Control Funding Formula.

More than $84 million in LCFF revenue is included in the budget, a 1.3-percent increase on the allocation from 2014-15.

Receiving the additional state revenue requires the district to craft and implement an overarching outline — known as a Local Control and Accountability Plan — for improving educational outcomes, learning environments, parent outreach and other variables.

“LCAP is a really profound change, not just in the way we’re funded but also in the way we think about what we do,” board member Craig Foster said. “It looks completely different this year than last year. … The whole point is ‘LC’ — local control. We want to think hard about our community engagement.”

That’s where local disparities in academic performance come into play.

The board recently reviewed SMMUSD data showing longstanding achievement gaps that exist between Hispanic and African-American students and their peers. And as they prepared to approve the budget, several board members said more has to be done to improve the district’s racial climate and provide help to the neediest students.

“There’s definitely, for me, a concern about culturally relevant pedagogy,” said board member Oscar de la Torre, whose nonprofit Pico Youth and Family Center was recently stripped of city funding. “Where can I see that contribution in the LCAP? … Where are the professional development dollars to do that cultural sensitivity training, and how much are we allocating for that type of initiative?”

According to de la Torre, there used to be money in the district budget earmarked for diversity training, bilingual specialists and other related programming.

The current budget doesn’t itemize those kinds of initiatives, according to Terry Deloria, the assistant superintendent of educational services, “because it should be part of all of the training we do,” she said.

Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez said the district’s community liaisons need additional training but added that the burden of addressing parents’ concerns shouldn’t only fall on them.

“We’re throwing everything on their shoulders,” she said, “and I don’t think there’s enough of them to work all the pieces that this plan calls for.”

Leon-Vazquez also said some students need more one-on-one attention and that the district should consider hiring outside help. SMMUSD plans to work with scholar and consultant Pedro Noguera on race-related issues.

Board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein said it will take time for the goals outlined in the plan to come to fruition.

“This document is very helpful,” he said. “It’s a vehicle of deliberative process about our education priorities. We share the same values when it comes to issues of diversity, collaboration, professional development. But … this is like 10 minutes old. It’s new. We’re all committed to continual improvement.”

Expenditures

The bulk of the SMMUSD budget is allocated for employees’ salaries and benefits.

The district will spend about $60.6 million on the salaries of certificated employees, a 2-percent jump from last year.

The salaries of classified employees will cost the district about $26.5 million, a 3.6-percent increase.

Employee benefits will cost SMMUSD an additional $30.8 million, a 5.1-percent spike.

Other planned expenditures include $14 million on services and operating costs, $3.7 million on books and supplies and more than $1 million on equipment.

Supt. Sandra Lyon, the district’s highest-paid employee, will maintain her current salary of $239,200, according to the budget.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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