Dr. Tim Cuneo, the Superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, told the community at the annual State of Our Schools gathering that while students continue to achieve at high levels, the district will be facing some tough choices over the next few months due to California’s large budget deficit.
The Superintendent stated at the February 2 gathering, the evidence of a weakening economy locally is being seen at the schools More students are visiting the nurse’s office because their parents have lost their health insurance coverage when they were laid off. There has also been an increase in applications by families for the district’s free and reduced lunch program, and more students are returning to the district from private schools.
Cuneo also mentioned the District anticipates there will be 16 percent less revenue available to the district over the next 18 months, due to the weakening economy. This drop could result in an increase in class sizes, a reduction in instructional materials, a reduction in nursing, library, counseling and support services, and less competitive salaries for the district’s staff. Many educational programs such as visual and performing arts are also in jeopardy.
The district’s budget is currently $123.7 million per year. Salaries and benefits make up 82.4 percent of that, and the rest is operating expenses. The state contributes 76.9 percent of the district’s budget and the other 23.1 percent comes from local sources. Local revenues come from parcel taxes, the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu, the PTA, and lease/rent revenues.
Even before the current financial crisis, California was spending $6,208 per student annually, which is $614 less per pupil than the national average. In the current environment, education in California would be under funded by as much as 40 percent. Cuneo stressed that “it will take each one of us pulling together to make it through the financial crisis ahead.”
Cuneo noted that the trend in the District for academic achievement is “constantly moving and improving.” However, there is still a gap in the achievement of Afro-American, Latino, White, and Asian students. A district task force is looking at how to improve this gap.
The priorities the district will be focusing on this academic year are enhancing collaboration, focusing on instruction, strong leadership, and working on improving the district’s facilities.
RAND’s Dr. Stephen Carroll discussed the impact of educational quality on the individual, the local community, and the larger community. He stated that a good quality education increases the likelihood for an individual to get a good job, earn a higher wage, have better mental and physical health, and less of a chance of being involved in crime.
The evening also included presentations by students and faculty from Santa Monica High School.