The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District is debating the future of its spending in the event revenues decline.
At a March 20 budget workshop board meeting, SMMUSD analyzed their budget and pinpointed programs and resources that could hypothetically be excised or changed in the event they didn’t have an excess of public funds and contributions, or needed to tighten their budget spending.
Assistant Superintendent Melody Canady led the budget presentation, saying the goal of the special meeting and presentation was to provide “budget development and review expenditures, to identify program areas and priorities to find where the district is atypical to other schools” throughout the state.
The presentation showed that, through a funding system called Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), SMMUSD makes upwards of $107 million a year. From local funds, the district makes an extra $42 million.
“We’re not trying to go out there and spend money just because it’s leftover,” Canady said. “We want things to be tight each year. We’re trying to reshape our budget. Not shave, reshape.”
Additionally, the presentation showed a projected $4.2 million deficit in the 2018-2019 fiscal year with the deficit increasing to $6.2 million in 2019-2020 fiscal year. In a multiyear projection, the district was shown to be hovering around $4-6 million in the red for the immediate foreseeable future.
Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati then introduced “SMMUSD vs. Typical CA Districts,” a highly detailed report listing programs and positions at schools within the district that Drati said SMMUSD was “blessed” to have but were not commonplace in other districts.
Drati said he “talked to experts and made many phone calls” to determine what consists of “atypical” schools in this process.
For example, at Samohi, they have 13 student support advisors compared to six at a typical high school; seven administrators compared to five; 14.5 custodians compared to 11.5. The sampling of data continues, resulting in $2 million — just for Samohi. The total amount considered atypical resulted in over $8 million of potential savings.
Quelling fears in regards potential immediate cuts, Drati added that there are no decisions made, that the report was meant to begin engaging in conversation, identifying what programs and positions the district should prioritize, to be “more efficient.” For example, Drati noted many of these programs and positions considered “atypical”, such as literacy coaches, have bolstered test scores in the district.
“In terms of timeline I’m not proposing this be dealt with in one year,” Drati said. “But we need to have a year by year plan to establish answers. A lot of these decisions are hard to make. Given our budget profile, we don’t need to act now. My goal is to have something in front of you for each year starting this fall for fall of 2019 start.”
Board reception to the presentation was positive, with Board President Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein suggesting program review.
“I know we do them, but we don’t do them uniformly across the district. If we’re looking at the budget and have to make challenges to be where we want to be, if there’s a way to focus on procedure, that’s another tool in the hand of the district.”
Craig Foster said the prioritizing of values and thoroughness in transparency appealed to him, adding “any money we don’t spend efficiently, our kids don’t benefit from, so this is great.”