The local school district’s budget is once again in the black looking ahead to the end of the fiscal year, according to the latest numbers presented by Assistant Superintendent Melody Canady.

Speaking before the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education on Thursday, May 19, Canady said the latest available revenue and expenditure data put the final unrestricted general fund balance for the SMMUSD at around $37.4 million for the 2021-22 school year. Three percent, or a little under $6 million, of that must be set aside for what the State of California calls “economic uncertainties,” meaning the real final balance is just under $31.7 million.

That number was $6 million more than had been expected as of the previous reporting, out Jan. 31, Canady said, signaling the latest bright spot in the District’s economic outlook. The balanced budget allows the SMMUSD to declare a “positive certification” for its latest budget revision; a “positive certification” means the District will be able to “continue paying obligations in the current and two subsequent budgetary years,” according to the California School Boards Association. In other words, the long term outlook is good for the SMMUSD’s financial solvency.

“The District’s financial position over the current and next two fiscal years is looking very, very, very good,” Canady told the School Board during her presentation. 

The change came from both an increase in revenue and a decrease in expenses. 

The district saw an increase in property tax revenue (about $1.8 million above what had been expected) and local sales tax revenue (a $2.4 million increase of Measure GSH/YY projected revenue).

At the same time, the SMMUSD anticipated saving about $1.2 million in salary and benefits, due to a decrease in certificated salaries, classified salaries, statutory benefits and employee health benefits due to the departure of staff members.

“Our student enrollment is declining each year,” Canady said. The latest count had about 8,517 students attending class each day districtwide.

But the departure of staff rang alarm bells around some parents and community members who called in to the meeting to express their dissatisfaction with class sizes at local schools, asking District leadership to replace all departing staff members to make class sizes shrink as enrollment drops. Several of those who spoke referred to “cuts” in staffing, which District leadership said was a mischaracterization.

“We didn’t give out any pink slips this year, right? There were no March 15 notices, and there were no layoffs, and there were no cuts — is that correct?” Board Member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein asked Superintendent Ben Drati following parent remarks.

“Yes. Trust me — if we were doing something the teacher’s union didn’t agree with, or something like that, trust me, we would have heard it,” Drati replied. “There’s nothing going on.”

Drati said he had heard rumors of layoffs and cuts, but said they were unfounded.

“In looking at this particular budget, what I see is a concerted effort that started four years ago to reduce line item expenditures to bring certain items under control — fiscal control — which compounds annually,” Board Member Jon Kean said. “This budget reflects fiscal stewardship. It reflects some pleasant surprises. We had surprises that were beneficial to us in terms of revenue. So, anybody who’s watching this would say, hm, this was a successful year within the district. We budgeted wisely. We had some pleasant surprises.”

Kean said there were also “staff considerations to be taken into account,” but overall, District staff had done a good job with their projections.