The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is in better shape both financially and in terms of academic achievement than other school districts throughout California but it is still confronting some major challenges.
District Superintendent Tim Cuneo discussed those challenges at the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica fall membership luncheon on October 24. The greatest challenge is the loss of revenue being caused by California’s unprecedented budget crisis which has the District projecting it will be dealing with a $12 million deficit in the coming academic year. The District currently has a reserve of $22 million but according to Cuneo “is burning through it very quickly.” He also noted that “if the economy improves, our District won’t see an improvement” in our revenues from the state for a year.
The District has several committees working on ways to deal with the deficit which could include reducing expenditures and/or revenue enhancements. They are the Financial Oversight Committee, the Emergency/ Temporary Parcel Tax Feasibility Committee, and the Superintendent’s Budget Committee. Initial recommendations will be discussed at the School Board meeting on December 10.
Cuneo also mentioned that the District is considering having all District staff pay a portion of their health premium with the amount being based upon their salary level in order to save $2.2 million. Currently, the District pays the full premium for its entire staff. This has caused an impasse in District negotiations with its bargaining units so a mediator is being brought in. Another idea is having employees take a reduction in pay so lay offs don’t have to be made and new hires don’t have to made when the budget improves.
The District also has set several goals for this year. One is revisiting its current strategic plan which was developed in 2002 with seven initiatives. The Superintendent wants holes in the plan to be closed so that a direction for the District can be set until 2015. The Superintendent stated this was important in order to keep the District focused.
Another goal is improving student achievement. This is being done by disaggregating performance data at every school site in order to identify and give extra help to students who are not making growth annually. The District will also be integrating the recommendations made by its Task Force on Students of Color to help eliminate the achievement gap between certain groups of students.
The gap in educating students with special needs is also being addressed. Cuneo explained the District is trying to group special education programs in one school so that special needs students don’t have to go to different schools to meet their needs. The District is also trying to offer more special education programs in-house so the District doesn’t have to pay for students to go to outside programs or private schools for specialized needs.
Lastly, the District is trying to improve inconsistencies in their approach to middle school education. They are looking at socialization issues, the transition from elementary school to middle school and the transition from middle school to high school.