Low State Funding for Schools | SPUSD Superintendent Notes Challenges Ahead

Superintendent Geoff Yantz told SPUSD families to anticipate and prepare for substantial reductions to state funding in the future.

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | SPUSD Superintendent, Geoff Yantz, addresses the Board of Education

As local school district officials continue to monitor the COVID-19 crisis and how it influences the day-to-day school environment, Superintendent Dr. Geoff Yantz insisted in a letter to the SPUSD community the “effects are quickly becoming a reality.”

The local, state, national, and global economy, wrote Yantz, is facing a considerable downturn due to COVID-19. “The extent of the downturn is uncertain,” he noted. “Regardless, state leaders have informed schools to prepare for a significant and prolonged recession. This situation puts our schools at great risk. Our funding is determined by the Governor and the state legislature based on tax collections.”

State and county officials have informed school districts like South Pasadena to anticipate and prepare for substantial reductions to funding in the future. “Some leaders have shared that the budget deficits will far exceed those in the last Great Recession,” wrote Yantz. “SPUSD is funded in the lowest 10% of unified districts within California based on the state’s Local Control Funding Formula for public education.”

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He said the per student funding level for this year reached a mark similar to 2008. “As a result, the state revenue we receive has not been adequate to cover regular increases over the years,” explained Yantz.

In addition, in January Yantz said the governor reduced projected funding for public education, causing a $500,000 loss for the South Pasadena Unified School District.

Grimly, the SPUSD has been operating in a silent recession since 2013 “and has been reducing expenses that have had minimal effects on employees and programs while adding revenue sources along the way to help meet the budget challenges, Yantz wrote. “For example, significant reductions in utility costs have been achieved, program grants awarded, local Measure S Parcel Tax & Measure SP Bond passed, and district property assets have been maximized. Much of this work has been accomplished behind-the-scenes to keep our district solvent while offering expanded and new academic, social-emotional, and extracurricular programs.”

To prevent lay-offs, Yantz  said the district has been spending reserve funds during uncertain times. “However, expending reserves is not a sustainable option in future years,” according to Yantz.

Ten percent of the district’s total operating budget comes from local funding sources a volunteer organizations – the South Pasadena Educational Foundation, PTAs, and booster clubs, all of which, said the superintendent, are concerned about missed fundraising opportunities as a result of the crises cancelling events like Parti Gras – SPEF’s biggest event of the year at Arroyo Seco Golf Course that won’t take place on account of the state and county’s “Safer at Home” order.

Yantz said the State budget development process “will be very different this year” as a result of the economic downturn. He said lawmakers have shared they will make funding reductions to school districts in May and June 2020 for this current fiscal year (2019-2020) and also for the next fiscal year. “State leaders are also planning to make additional funding reductions to the education budget in August 2020,” Yantz wrote. “The timeline for this process has never been used before, and it puts school districts in a precarious position for making the necessary and required spending reductions with little to no time to process.  The legislature must also make changes to the statutory requirements and regulations for districts to respond appropriately and responsibly. The State is providing no advance guidance. Therefore, school districts will need to act immediately and decisively in order to remain financially solvent.

The superintendent and SPUSD Board of Education members have held discussions with State Senator Senator Portantino, whose 25th District represents South Pasadena, and his office, along with public education advocacy organizations and the governor’s office. “We are also in daily communication with superintendents and school board members throughout Los Angeles County for advocacy purposes,” wrote Yantz.

This week, Yantz is meeting with the Senate Budget Committee consultant from the state “to discuss our challenges related to COVID-19 and to implore more autonomy and flexibility in how school districts make budgetary decisions,” he noted.  “In spite of our unending commitment to our students and fiscal responsibility, SPUSD will be challenged to weather this crisis without courageous and immediate action by our State elected officials.”

As this situation unfolds “we must be mindful that, from a metaphorical standpoint, a multi-year budget problem might be thought of as a large hole in the ground that we have to fill. Surrounding the large hole with caution tape will not suffice,” he continued. “We can fill the hole with boulders, rocks, pebbles, and sand. The challenge we face involves multi-millions of dollars. In terms of dollar amounts, it will be important that we not confuse what are boulders (large budget impact) versus what is sand (small budget impact).”

Yantz encouraged parents in the district to read  detailed budget information accompanying his correspondence.

He says the school community will continue to do what it can to bridge the funding gap in the coming months and years, stressing the South Pasadena Board of Education will be responsible financial stewards for the school district. “We believe that together, with our collective resolve and immediate action by our State’s elected officials to do what is right for our students, we will get through these difficult times,” concluded Yantz.