$24.3 million in the red, Sac City Unified district cuts its newly launched summer program

Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar
Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar Sacramento Bee file

Facing a $24.3 million deficit, the Sacramento City Unified board this week approved a $555.3 million budget that includes eliminating a recently launched summer program and dipping further into reserve funds.

The budget, approved Thursday night, includes $4 million in cuts to existing programs, including slashing a new Expanded Learning Summer Program that kicked off Monday in Sacramento schools and was designed to offer more than 4,300 Sacramento K-12 students grade-level readiness assistance and other academic advancement opportunities.

The cutbacks were necessary even though Gov. Jerry Brown's recently signed a budget expanded state education spending by $3.9 billion or just over 5 percent, according to reports. It’s the seventh year in a row that Brown has expanded school funding; however, students and teachers aren’t feeling the difference, according to Alex Barrios, chief communications officer for SCUSD.

The additional state funds will go to rising health care costs and increased mandatory state pension contributions. The total budget is decreasing from $567 million last year to $555 million. Brown has also warned of a coming recession, and Sacramento, like other large urban centers, has had to make cuts to upcoming budgets in preparation for a slowdown, the district said in a press release. The deficit is up to $24.3 million from $15.3 million last year and projected to reach $34.4 million in 2019-20.

Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said in a press release Friday that after a year in his position, "it is clear ... that our district faces significant fiscal challenges. We will begin addressing these challenges by making central office cuts, executing a hiring freeze and making other administrative cuts that will not impact the classroom.

"While I had hoped that the board and I would be able to expand some of the very small investments we have made in recent months to promote an equity, access and social justice agenda for our students, unfortunately those investments will not increase significantly.”

The agenda includes a set of initiatives aimed to close the achievement gap and provide student support services, like the Expanded Summer Learning Program.

The program, which Aguilar previously called an extension of the school year, automatically enrolled students who were falling behind in critical grade years. High achieving sixth and seventh graders are also enrolled in classes designed to get them ready for accelerated high school programs.

The Expanded Summer Learning Program was supported through one-time state funding, like many new initiatives, with the hopes that it would become an ongoing program, the district said. It will run this summer as planned, but as of now, is not included in next year's budget.

The school district has 45 days to amend its budget before it is finalized.

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