Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District offices (File photo)

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District 2020-2021 preliminary budget is expected to be presented by staff next week on Thursday, June 4, but Superintendent Ben Drati recently took the time to preview some of the district’s proposed budgetary actions.

In a presentation Thursday, Drati shared that the district is out of wiggle room in regards to its fiscal reserves, and believes the district needs to take “some major actions” going forward.

“Today, the first thing I want to do is make crystal clear where we are financially in the simplest terms, so that we can all appreciate the challenge at hand,” Drati said, detailing how the district is currently spending about $11 million more than the revenue it brings in. As a result, the district is currently projected to have an ending fund balance of negative $5.6 million dollars in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Despite the projections, SMMUSD’s superintendent believes the district has a path forward thanks to reductions it has made throughout the last couple of years.

“So many people have asked why we are not keeping cuts as far away from the classroom as possible and they say we haven’t considered cuts to the central office services,” but this couldn’t be further from the truth, Drati said, detailing how the district has made approximately $2.3 million worth of cuts to central office services and contracts in the last two years.

Drati it was important to discuss previous years’ cuts because more will have to be made in the coming months. He said if the district does not take immediate action then the district will literally find itself to be out of money soon.

“We are actually entering a new reality because we don’t know what will happen with our revenue,” Drati said.

He said SMMUSD’s board of education previously approved a resolution that stated it would make millions of dollars worth of cuts to its budget in 2020-2021, however, that was prior to the Covid-19 and officials are still unsure how the pandemic will fiscally affect districts across California.

But SMMUSD has always sought to support its diverse student body and ensure that students receive a high-quality education and teachers are supported in their work, according to Drati, and it will continue to think creatively to determine how to best deliver its services and programs to students in the future.

Staff is expected to review the district’s current revenue and expenditure projections along with SMMUSD’s preliminary 2020-21 budget during next Thursday’s board of education meeting. The board will return to take action and adopt the final 2020-21 budget on June 24. Local residents wishing to provide input on the matter can find instructions on how to submit public comment by visiting the website: smmusd.org/domain/2977.

brennon@smdp.com

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