In an attempt to find solutions to the district’s fiscal woes, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Ben Drati declared this week that he intends to form a Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee, which will meet for the first time in February.

Drati announced his intentions in a letter, which was addressed to parents, guardians, staff and community members, that discussed how the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District — like most districts in the state of California — has been challenged by a structural fiscal deficit spending cycle throughout the last decade.

“This means that our operational expenditures are greater than the revenues we receive from our combined state, federal and local funding,” Drati said as he described how the cycle is a function of many factors, including increases in healthcare, the cost of living, and general operations, such as costs of material supplies and services.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently approved the state budget for the 2020-21 year that reflects additional funding support for school districts, but since SMMUSD is a community-funded, or basic aid district, Drati said, “we are not the beneficiary of any state budget changes. Therefore, this initiative, while great for the state, will not benefit SMMUSD.”

Drati added the district is expecting a small amount of additional funding for its special education program, but SMMUSD’s fund balance is “extremely low at this point, and there is no indication in the near future that there will be an increase in revenue from state, federal or local sources of funding.”

As a result, Drati said, “we must now take a hard look at our district’s expenditures and realign our practices in keeping with our district’s mission and revenue going forward…Though a difficult and sometimes a painful process for a school community, I am optimistic that we will get through this and be even stronger following this realignment.”

Santa Monica Classroom Teacher Association representatives have previously said teachers are concerned about budget cuts moving forward and instructors hope the board of education will keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. If cuts do need to be made, a SMMCTA representative said during a recent meeting, then teachers suggest they be made over a longer period of time.

Others have asked that the process be collaborative, which is exactly what district leaders believe the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee will allow as it will be comprised of a broad range of community stakeholders, including teachers, principals, staff, parents, community members and students.

“Members have been selected to provide a balanced representation across schools, grade level, constituent and geographic location,” Drati said in the letter, detailing how the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee is committed to transparency and meetings will be open to the public for observation.

But participation by those who are not official members of the committee will be limited to observation and posing written questions and comments. Responses to the questions will be addressed in subsequent meetings, according to Drati, and minutes of the committee’s meetings will be made available to the public online.

Prospective SBAC members have been notified and the first of six planned meetings will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 5, from 4-7 p.m. at the SMMUSD Professional Development Learning Center.

“SMMUSD schools are amongst the most highly rated in the state and nation,” Drati said at the conclusion of his letter. “We will continue to provide exceptional programs taught by outstanding teachers while following our goals and district mission as we embark on this critical journey. We are committed to this realignment process and look forward to collaborating with our committee to ensure that all stakeholder groups have input into budget planning that will impact the district for years to come.”