School districts across the state have been forced to adapt to the financial conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has decimated traditional streams of revenue for more than a year. Despite the economic devastation, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District leaders are preparing to adopt a budget that they believe reflects a better financial forecast than previously projected at the start of the pandemic.

In July 2020, SMMUSD leaders predicted the district would be forced into deficit spending for the foreseeable future, but Melody Canady, SMMUSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Business and Fiscal Services, explained during the Third Budget Revision that SMMUSD would instead see millions of dollars in COVID relief funds, which would help bolster reserves in light of a $1.9 million expected decrease in property tax revenues.

Since then, Canady has returned to the Board of Education a couple of times to highlight how the $5.2 million increase in redevelopment agency funds will pair with $4.4 million in COVID relief funds to provide a much-needed boost to district reserves. And now the Board of Education is expected to adopt the 2021-22 District Budget this Thursday.

“If you remember, two years ago, we were deficit spending about $7- to $8-million, almost $9 million. But you ended up making some decisions throughout the last three years to get us to this point,” Superintendent Ben Drati said as he detailed how projected Property Tax Increases of $1.6 million and other revenue increases, like the $200,000 increase in contributions to special education, have him optimistic SMMUSD will be okay.

Canady said the funding to special education probably won’t be reflected in the budget until the 45-day budget revision because the money hasn’t been released yet. Drati shared he remains confident the money will hit the district’s coffers, though.

Meanwhile, Board Member Craig Foster has asked that his peers remember to not spend money simply because they have the ability to. Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez agreed last week.

“I propose for the coming 22-23 year that we begin to evaluate all those programs,” Leon-Vazquez said. “First of all, to see how effective they are, and, maybe, we look and find another kind of program that’s going to be more effective.”

The 2021-22 Proposed Budget is currently online for interested stakeholders to view online at the district’s website. The board is expected to approve it around 7 p.m. Thursday.