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

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education will hold a public hearing on its 2020-2021 budget this Thursday beginning at 5:30 p.m. in a special board meeting that will be streamed via Zoom.

Staff and district leaders previously discussed the budget and the fiscal challenges currently facing districts across California during a meeting on June 5, but California Education Code requires all school districts to hold a public hearing so residents have an opportunity to discuss a proposed budget showing a district’s expenditures, cash balances, and all revenues.

At previous board meetings, SMMUSD officials have detailed that the district is currently spending about $11 million more than the revenue it brings in and is projected to have an ending fund balance of negative $5.6 million dollars in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

“We are actually entering a new reality because we don’t know what will happen with our revenue,” Superintendent Ben Drati previously said, before sharing the fact that SMMUSD’s board of education approved a resolution stating it would make millions of dollars worth of cuts to its budget in 2020-2021 — however, that was prior to the Covid-19 so officials are still unsure how the pandemic will fiscally affect districts across California.

The board will adopt its budget for the 2020-2021 school year at a school board meeting planned for next week on Thursday, June 25, according to Thursday’s agenda, which lists a number of other Major Action Items that are set to be discussed by the board this week.

Shortly after a ten minute presentation related to the district’s Covid-19 Operations Written Report, the board of education is expected to undertake a discussion on a resolution proposing the reduction or elimination of positions in the SMMUSD’s Child Development program.

“Education Code Section 8366 provides that it is appropriate for a district to lay-off employees who hold child development permits at any time during the school year for lack of work and/or lack of funds,” the resolution states, before adding the Board of Education believes its best action is to reduce the number and types of positions in the district’s child development preschool and school-age programs.

The resolution states the equivalent of approximately 34 full-time employees will be laid off effective June 30, and Board President Jon Kean said Monday the action is a last resort.

“In California where per pupil funding is mired in the bottom 20% nationally, the scenario for early education is much worse,” Kean said. “Even with the generous support from our community through Measure GSH, these CDS jobs are at risk solely because kids cannot be enrolled right now so tuition isn’t coming in to run the programs. We are hopeful that students will be back in classrooms this fall and that our staff will be back teaching, but if they cannot, these layoffs are necessary.”

“The only positive that I can add is that all staff has received salaries since March 13th when schools closed due to Covid-19 and all health benefits will be in place through September 1st,” Kean said. “But this is devastating to our students, our staff and our district… At a time like this, we need more support, not less. We must find solutions and we must find them now.”

The board is expected to adopt a separate resolution Thursday night in an effort to clarify the criteria that will be used to determine seniority for the proposed layoffs, and then General public comments will then be allowed, according to the agenda. The board is expected to announce the rescission of four pink slips, which brings the total number of outstanding RIF notices to two.

brennon@smdp.com