SMMUSD Budget Woes May Mean School Wish Lists Will Have to Be Pared
• Samohi Advocates Challenge Equity of the Allocation of Dollars for Malibu High
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The board of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, grappling with a $12 million deficit this year, heard a somber report on the state and district’s economic outlook from Financial Oversight Committee chair Cynthia Torres at its March 19 meeting in Santa Monica.
“We must continue to respond flexibly to an extremely difficult and fluid economic environment,” Torres said. “We are concerned that the economic picture in California is continuing to worsen.”
Torres’ warnings were repeated by district Superintendent Tim Cuneo, who said that he is concerned that in the next 18 months, “revenues will not be what we hoped and anticipated.” The superintendent outlined plans to develop his own budget committee that would incorporate a wide range of district representatives. He also stated that he had plans to meet with the district’s high school students, and to seek their input.
Three members of the Santa Monica High School Associated Student Body spoke at the meeting, protesting budget cuts that would include elimination of Samohi’s dean of students. “Budget cuts [at Samohi] are not the best thing,” John McQueeney, the Samohi ASB vice president, stated. “There are no budget cuts in Malibu. There are 1292 students [in Malibu] and 3253 at our school. So I’m thinking maybe we should share the budget cuts, or significantly drop them towards Malibu.”
“Why us?” Samohi ASB president Dona Davoodi asked the board, calling the Samohi students the district’s greatest constituents. “We spend the second least amount of money, while Malibu is spending all the money they want and not getting any cuts,” she said.
Jean-Michel Hoffman, the Samohi ASB Speaker of the House, told the board that “Samohi generates the most revenue for SMMUSD, yet we receive the least subsidy. We’re taking about cutting the most from our school to eliminate staff that directly serves students.”
Hoffman said that, when he tried to express his concerns to district officials, he was told that the matter was an “adult” issue. “We’re more aware than many of you think,” Hoffman said. “Often times we know what is best for us.” He described blogs where he said students are discussing budget options, and suggested that there are other ways to cut costs and increase revenue, ranging from interdistrict permits to turning the lights off in the afternoon. “Students must be brought into this process. There’s a wealth of knowledge and creative thinking. Bring us into this discussion,” Hoffman said.
“We all welcome comments and input,” Cuneo replied, outlining plans to bring the budget crisis discussion to students at all three district high schools. Cuneo also invited students and the community to a district budget workshop on May 5 in Santa Monica. “We welcome you to be there,” he said.
In an effort to avert cash shortfall problems, the board approved a resolution authorizing the potential for short term loans up to $10 million that could be used to cover cash shortages if the state defers payments. According to staff, “Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes, or TRANS, are short-term financing used by school districts to manage temporary fiscal year cash flow deficits.” Jan Maez, the district’s chief financial officer, told the board that the notes were an emergency measure to insure that the district would not run out of cash at the end of the year and would only be used if needed.
The board also discussed the potential for interdistrict permits to help bring revenue. Many Santa Monica schools, including Samohi, cannot take additional students, but Juan Cabrillo and Point Dume Elementary schools and Malibu High School are experiencing declining attendance and could accommodate additional students, according to district officials.
“What kind of marketing have we done in our Malibu schools?” asked board vice president Barry Snell. “Malibu schools [will be] very much impacted [by declining enrollment] over next five years. Interdistrict permits could be very helpful. I’m not sure were doing the right kind of advertising.”
“I get a lot of calls,” Maez told the board. “Many people want to transfer their child into Samohi at ninth grade. What I tell them is that the board has decided Samohi is at capacity, however we do have permits available for Malibu High School and there are buses available, so that’s always the case, and occasionally there are people who say, ‘You know what, that sounds good’ and they do it, so we always tell them that is an option.” Maez added that the district’s interdistrict permit information phone message currently states that the district is offering permits for K-9 in Malibu.
“It would be pretty poor form to go into Agoura or another district and say ‘Send your kids our way.’ We aren’t going to do that,” Assistant Superintendent Mike Matthews said, adding that the district “won’t max out with permits. We refuse to go to the very limit with permits.”
Matthews described the policy as a useful budgeting tool. “It helps bottom line. Helps us balance things out,” he said.
“The first criteria is our need,” Snell said. “The reality of it is space available.”
Although students usually attend schools in the district where they reside, SMMUSD has a policy that allows a limited number of students from other districts to transfer to district schools, with the children of Santa Monica and Malibu city employees currently taking precedence. The board, at its next meeting, is expected to amend the policy to place district alumni who work in Santa Monica or Malibu at the top of the list, and to limit permits in Santa Monica schools to kindergarten through sixth grade. Malibu schools will continue to accept permits from kindergarten through ninth grade. The district anticipates offering 200 interdistrict permits for the 2009-10 year. The application period for the permits opens on March 31. The district granted 150 permits last year.