Board of Education to Vote on Landmark Budget | SPUSD Faces Layoffs in Face of Shortfall

As COVID crisis continues to take its toll on many services, the South Pasadena School Board continues to seek solutions in spite of less than favorable alternatives

FILE PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | School Board member, Zahir Robb

The South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) Board of Education will vote next Thursday, June 25th, on a landmark preliminary budget.

As presented to the board during their meeting on June 9th, the district proposes $4.4 million in cuts for the 2020-21 school year. The $4.4 million figure represents a nearly eight-percent loss of revenue for the upcoming school year. 

“I don’t think it’s going to come as a shock to anyone that we’re in a difficult financial situation,” said Assistant Superintendent Dave Lubs in a presentation to the board. “We’re in a tough spot, but we’re not alone.”

While the district believes this budget will keep South Pasadena schools running for the next two years, the district will require additional action for 2022 and beyond. “Barring any additional reductions, we are insolvent in year three (2022-23). We’re unable to pay our bills and our salaries in year three,” said Lubs. 

The anticipated shortfall results from slowed state funding as California continues to deal with the COVID crisis. These projections were made in Governor Gavin Newsom’s May revision to the state budget, which the legislature approved on June 15th. 

As part of the cuts, the district suggests immediate layoffs for “a significant number” of its classified staff, mostly in food service and extended day care. Though an exact number of layoffs is not yet known, board member Zahir Robb estimates “over 100 people” will not be returning next school year. 

FILE PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | Assistant Superintendent Dave Lubs

“We have no choice but to take action,” said board president Dr. Michele Kipke. “These are just painful steps to take.” 

76% of the proposed cuts will affect district employees, whose salaries and benefits make up 83-85% of the district’s annual budget. In addition to food service and extended day care layoffs, the district will also suggest layoffs to teachers and other certificated employees for the upcoming school year, though it requires permission from the state before proceeding. 

The COVID crisis has magnified fiscal issues public schools have been experiencing since the 2008 Financial Crisis. According to board member Dr. Ruby Kalra, over 70% of California schools were deficit spending in the last school year before COVID overwhelmed the state’s budget. “We’ve never seen cuts as drastic as these,” she said. 

“People have been defunding schools for ages,” said Robb. “This is really a call to all of us to continue the pressure and push for funding for our schools.”

According to Lubs, the budget shortfall may affect public education funding for “many years.” Since the state allocates funding on an at-needs basis, South Pasadena falls in the bottom tenth-percentile of California schools in funding received per student, according to Kipke. 

“We are very fortunate as a school district,” said Kipke. “Shame on California that we have put not only our district in this position, but all districts in this position. It’s just unacceptable” 

The district also anticipates a revised state budget in August, where additional federal funds might be allocated towards California schools, though it is unclear if and when that money will come. “We’re the little bouncing ball, not knowing where we’re going to land, but knowing it’s going to change,” said Lubs. 

Towards the end of the meeting, the board approved a resolution to apply for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Though the district won’t know “for many months” whether FEMA funds will be made available to California schools, Lubs presented the option as a potential way to increase revenue for the upcoming school year.