File photo

Santa Monica College’s Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the local community college’s 2020-2021 budget this week following a presentation from staff that outlined a future of deficit spending and dwindling reserves.

Expenditures for the college recently increased nearly $13 million dollars while its revenues remained stagnant. As a result, the community college district closed this fiscal year with $13.2 million in its Unrestricted General Fund, which is less than half of what it was when the 2019-2020 budget was adopted. The Unrestricted General Fund possesses the only funds that are available for the general operations of the District.

“We went from a $3 million dollar surplus in 18-19 to a $9.6 million deficit in 19-20,” said Chris Bonvenuto, SMC’s Vice President of Business & Administration. “In 18-19, we finished the year with $30.67 million in our reserves (and) we went through $9.6 million of them,” which means SMC lost nearly a third of its budgetary reserves in one fiscal year.

“So we could see that, unfortunately, from the time we adopted the budget to the time that we actually closed, our deficit grew exponentially,” Bonvenuto said, noting staff previously assumed it would have an Unrestricted General Fund surplus of $3 million in 2018-2019 but the college has since projected a $7.8 million deficit during the 2020-2021 adopted budget.

“Not many other colleges had that big of a deficit,” Bonvenuto said, adding: “We had taken a $3.7 million projected deficit and turned it into a nine-plus (million-dollar) deficit.”

With nearly 50 residents still logged into Zoom Tuesday evening listening to the presentation, Bonvenuto explained it’s really important that the community understands things are deteriorating even faster than his most conservative assumptions.

“I will say that I will try every single thing that I have in my arsenal before I bring to the board extreme measures,” Bonvenuto said, highlighting the work of the college’s budget committee.

He said he had a lot of faith in the budget committee group but there may have to be some tough decisions and conversations to come because there’s not a lot of room to wait.

Other major highlights, according to the board’s budget narrative is the fact the district is projected to receive about $12.4 million less funding starting in the 2024-2025 fiscal year. Luckily, the adopted budget included initiatives and projects that were not completed due to the COVID pandemic, so initiatives like the Safe Parking Pilot Program and the Gender Equity and Social Justice Center’s renovation have all been carried over into the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Brennon@smdp.com