March 2, 2021 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

School Board Approves Budget:

The Board of Education approved a budget that reduced spending by more than 11 percent from the previous year for the 2010-2011 Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District fiscal term.

A packed crowd anticipated the final approval on Friday’s 5:30 p.m. meeting of a $1.7 million general fund wracked with program and staffing cuts. Major funding from Sacramento is still uncertain until the overall State budget to be approved in the coming months. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger promises further reduction in education funding.

The State reduced average daily attendance per student by $250. This allocates about $1,000 less per student than guaranteed by Proposition 98, which mandated that at least 40 percent of state spending went to schools.

State law requires approval of the total budget by the end of June, but there are opportunities for changes as needs arise, said Jan Maez, the chief financial officer for the district. She said the budget could change as soon as the first July board meeting, so the board is not “stuck with these numbers.”

The district has already made $7.1 million in cuts to the fall budget.

The law also calls for a three-year projection on the budget with district officials assuming additional funds for the next two years that are yet to be realized. With $5 million in hanging revenue, more cuts may be in the future if additional money is not generated.

Board members warned this is only the beginning if substantial sources of revenue are not found. The Financial Oversight Committee presented additional funding improvement actions.

A separate committee is reviewing the recently failed parcel tax measure and studying feasibility for another measure vote in November.

Money must be raised by August 15 to benefit the coming year.

In one money-saving effort the district will be closed until June 25 for the five furlough days that will save about $2 million.

A heated crowd challenges staff appointments

On the pristine Friday evening, community and staff members presented emotional pleas to the board on behalf of specific program and staff reductions.

For a reoccurring issue, community members and one Malibu High counselor spoke before the board asking for more counselors to be kept on the reduced Malibu High School staff. With only two general counselors left at the school this allocates 577 students per staff member. One college specific counselor will handle 688 high school students.

“I would like to finally hear board members have a discussion about adding an extra counselor that is really necessary for a college prep high school in our district,” said former SMMUSD board member Kathy Wisnicki.

The board proposed a reduction of three counselors in the district leaving Malibu with the listed ratios. Samohi has a general counselor ratio at 300 students per staff members, but 1,500 students for both college counselors.

Board member Ben Allen agreed with the notion of reallocating counseling positions in the district for a more balanced ratio.

Superintendent Tim Cuneo said that reallocating counselors might be like “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” He recommended “taking action” on the issue at a later meeting in order to protect bond ratings for the entire district. The board will decide the matter later this summer.

The issue was only one of several heated decisions brought up at the meeting, including a last minute amendment by board member Barry Snell to District Advisory Committee appointments. Claudia Landis, member of the special education “watchdog group,” acted more similar to a pitbull as she spoke of how “disturbing” she found the impromptu change to be. She stalked nervously around the room until the board voted to dash any changes to the issue in a split vote.

In another emotional plea, 20 newly-graduated students attended the meeting to show support for reinstating counselor Laura DeMirjian, who was eliminated from her role in preference to a more accredited staff member.

Despite the persuasive appeals, board member Allen explained the board’s “hands were tied” due to the teacher’s union leaders decision after a “due process trial” that the Samohi counselor was to return to a teaching position.

The board will reconvene on July 14 to further discuss budget and funding issues. To learn more about the budget visit smmusd.org.

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