California’s budget crisis has been having a devastating effect on school districts throughout the state. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District hasn’t had to make the deep cuts other districts did this year but it will have to begin making cuts in next year’s budget.
This was the grim news delivered by Superintendent Tim Cuneo at The State Our Schools event on November 18 at the SMASH/John Muir Elementary Cafetorium. He stated that the District will be facing a $10 million deficit this year and “if we don’t make a change in our expenditures we won’t be able to survive because we can’t count on Sacramento to provide us with the kind of money we need.”
Cuneo noted that the District receives 72 percent of its revenues from the state which adds up to $6,258 per child, the same amount the District received from the state in 2004-2005. This is about $1,000 less than the national state average. Local funding sources give the District an additional $2,257 per child.
The lost funding from Sacramento could result in the District having to increase class size, limit summer school programs, have fewer school days and reduce instructional materials.
The District is looking for proactive ways to deal with its deficit. It is currently negotiating with its unions to look at ways to make adjustments to its employees’ salaries and benefits. It is also looking at ways to bring more revenue into the District such as a temporary/emergency parcel tax. However, Cuneo stressed, “revenue enhancements take time to put into place and right now is when we’re in trouble. We have to have a balanced budget so this District can survive.”
Despite these financial challenges Cuneo noted the District’s students are achieving Academic Performance Index (API) scores that far exceed the state levels, and students in the District’s high schools are outperforming the country and state’s students in Advanced Placement tests.
Another speaker was Pam Brady, the Immediate Past President of the California State PTA. She opened her remarks with “These are challenging times. Never before have we found ourselves in the circumstances we’re now finding ourselves.”
Brady then criticized the current state budget process by stating, “The critical question in the budget process should have always been what do we need to make/keep California a prosperous state? Then you build the budget. You don’t have a budget to start throwing numbers around to just make it balance at the bottom.” She stressed that by cutting education expenditures to balance the budget, the state reduces the next generation’s dreams. In addition, education cuts in the long term actually increase the state’s budget due to the increased needs in social services, law enforcement, and crime that are created by a poorly educated population.
Brady concluded by stating, “to build California to be strong again we need to invest in education.”
Board members Oscar De La Torre and Ben Allen, both Santa Monica High School (SAMOHI) alumni, spoke about the many distinguished graduates the District has produced over the years. The last segment of the event included a panel of teachers and students from SAMOHI.