(Updated at 11:37 a.m.): Additionally, beginning this month, the district must pay $250,000 every month to the county for mental-health services. This had previously been funded by the state, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated that in one of his final moves as head of the state. Three lawsuits are pending to try to return the financial responsibility to the state.
On Thursday the Board of Education approved, by a 6-1 vote, a measure that would allow the elimination of six teaching positions and 5.6 nurse jobs in a school district with a .
The decision does not necessarily mean people will lose their jobs. State law requires the SMMUSD notify people by March 15 that they might not be coming back in the fall. The board's vote was for “a precautionary measure” that would allow “for flexibility,” said Debra Moore Washington, SMMUSD's assistant superintendent for human resources.
The district is being forced to project its financial future while many issues with the state—its greatest financial contributor—hang in limbo. Among them are soon-to-expire sales, income and vehicle taxes, which wants extended. For that to happen, two-thirds of the Legislature must vote by next month to place the extensions on the June ballot. Then voters would have to approve them.
The lone opposition vote for the layoff measure came from Board Member Ralph Mechur, who said the district has “the resources … to survive” next year at current staffing levels.
“I understand the flexibility, but I do think these micro-adjustments do not begin to address what we may have to address,” Mechur said. “I think it’s just making specific targets that are going to create some ill will. I just want to let the community know as much as possible that our intention is to hold things steady for next year and take a breather, and pray that the Legislature and the voters allow us to do that.”
Brown’s current budget proposal for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins July 1, calls for school districts to take about a $20-per-student hit in state funding, SMMUSD officials say. (State funding is based on average daily attendance.) But that assumes the tax extensions will be approved. If they are not, the district says it will lose $330 to $350 per student, which equates to more than $3.6 million. There are further budget scenarios in discussion that could bring that loss to $1,000 per student, district CFO Jan Maez told the Board on Thursday.
“It just seems like a lot of things have to fall in place" for the district to have the money it needs next year, Board Member Nimish Patel said. He has asked staff if the board should be proposing additional cuts to make room for more flexibility.
Superintendent Tim Cuneo said the Board's move was not needed. According to him, the district could withstand cuts of up to $350 per student. Anything higher would be so drastic that the state would have to allow the districts additional time to make what he said would be draconian adjustments, he said.
Other factors affecting the budget include the student population, which continues to sink, especially at the kindergarten level. Also, it is not certain whether Malibu's will be part of the SMMUSD in the fall. The charter applicants were denied at the district and county level, and are deciding whether to appeal to the state.
With regard to the nurses, a task force is currently meeting to decide on adjustments to the district’s health care system. The proposed elimination of the six nursing positions allows the district flexibility for any changes it might make to the system based on the task force’s recommendations, which are expected to come in April or May. Board Vice President Ben Allen said the task force should move expeditiously.
“The last thing I want to have is for folks who are dangling around not knowing what their status is for a long period of time,” he said. “I think that’s unfair to our employees. I think it’s unfair to our district.”