With winter break a few weeks away for many Santa Monica students and teachers, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District gathered Thursday for its final board meeting in the month of December.

Decisions related to the board’s leadership and budget matters were some of the many agendized items that were discussed during the four-hour meeting.

Board President

“Today is actually the last day that Ricard will serve as president and Jon as vice president. From my vantage point, you guys have done a wonderful job during the year,” said Superintendent Ben Drati at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting.

After a short speech, outgoing president Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein asked members to not make a big deal of the occasion and tried to move on with the meeting but fellow board member Craig Foster interjected, explaining it’d be rude to not acknowledge the excellent efforts of Jon Kean and Tahvildaran-Jesswein throughout the past year.

“I know you’re committed to innovation; I know you’re committed to collaboration; I know you’re committed to pushing the district forward… so I’m very thankful and you spent two years of your life,” Foster said.

Board member Laurie Lieberman echoed her fellow members’ sentiments when she took the microphone, and shortly after it was decided that Kean and Lieberman would serve as the board’s respective president and vice-president, members settled into their new seats to wait for the presentation of SMMUSD’s First Interim Report, which shows the district’s financial position as of October 31, 2019

Budget items

This week’s meeting was the first one held since Drati detailed the district’s budget situation in a letter addressed to the community.

Drati wrote in late November that the district’s financial situation was a pressing problem and a presentation by district staff Thursday outlined the specifics.

While looking at a slide of the district’s financial projections, staff said the district is deficit spending a combined $19 million in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 fiscal years. As a result, SMMUSD’s ending fund balance is expected to be negative $4.7 million in 2021-2022.

However, the district is still able to submit its first interim budget report with a Positive Certification since it will still be able to meet its obligation in the current and next two fiscal years, according to Thursday’s budget presentation.

Following the board’s approval of the first interim budget report, the board of education moved to address a request from the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

“LACOE sent us a letter because they’re afraid our reserves have fallen below a certain percentage that they monitor,” Kean said, explaining that LACOE sent the same letter to two-thirds of all districts in Los Angeles. “And what they asked us for was a fiscal stabilization resolution … that shows we have a plan to address our deficit so that’s what we’re trying to accomplish now.”

With the adoption of Resolution No. 19-13, SMMUSD will soon begin to identify possible budget reductions for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 fiscal years, according to the resolution’s text. SMMUSD would also be required to formulate a list of the prospective budget cuts that will be included in the 2019-20 second interim report.

“While these actions must be taken to maintain the fiscal stability of the district,” the resolution reads. “The Board of Education will continue to make every effort to sustain a high-quality education program for our students.”


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