Sacramento City Unified school board grapples with massive budget shortfall
The Sacramento City Unified School District’s revised budget has been rejected again by the county Office of Education, citing a massive deficit by 2020.
In a letter Thursday to district Superintendent Jorge Aguilar, Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David W. Gordon nixed the budget that the district’s board of education revised and approved on Oct. 4, saying the district would meet minimum reserve requirements for the upcoming fiscal year, but would fall short $66.5 million by the 2020-2021 year.
The district must now work with a budget review committee, to be formed by the county superintendent and the state superintendent of public instruction, which will review the budget and give recommendations for meeting requirements by Nov. 30, Gordon said.
Alternatively, the district board and the county superintendent may agree to waive the formation of a budget review committee with approval from the California Department of Education by Nov. 8, in which case the department will ensure the adoption of a balanced budget by the end of the year.
The district must also submit cash flow statements and a budget-balancing timeline by Oct. 19, Gordon said.
“While the district must reverse its deficit spending in time to meet minimum reserve levels in 2019-2020 and beyond, this office recommends that the district make cuts immediately,” Gordon said in the letter.
David Fisher, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said he was not surprised that the revised budget had been disapproved, but he was still shocked that district budget issues — which the SCTA called a “fiasco” in September — have continued to this point.
“As classroom teachers ourselves, we know the importance of prioritizing resources to the classroom,” Fisher said, adding that if the district made cuts based on the SCTA’s proposal, it could save millions per year by slashing administrative costs.
The SCTA has repeatedly called for massive cuts to administration, which Fisher referred to as bloated..
However, the district has openly refuted the figures that the SCTA used to calculate its proposed cuts, and provided data that suggests administrative costs, when taken as a percent of the total budget, are comparatively lower than in other local districts.
Board member Ellen Cochrane said that she would like to take a look at administrative positions going forward to meet budget requirements, work collaboratively to determine whether or not administrators are effective, and place freezes on new administrative hires and Aguilar’s salary.
“I’m not interested in people losing their jobs,” Cochrane said. “There is not a person employed by Sac City who doesn’t love this district.”
Instead, she said, if some administrators are ineffective for whatever reason, she thinks they ought to be placed into classrooms as teachers.
“I know that working together, I know that we can get this done,” Cochrane said, adding she believes the district can successfully meet the next major budget deadline.
Richard Owen, the executive director of United Professional Educators, a labor partner with the district that represents principals, assistant principals and some central office administrators, said that even if cuts were made in administration, it wouldn’t be enough to cover the massive looming deficit.
All employees should make concessions, especially when it comes to pension and healthcare contributions, to avoid mass layoffs, he said, a prospect that he said is worrisome.
“People have to come together, we need to work together,” Owen said, “If all we do is blame and take hardcore positions, we’re not going to get out of this mess.”
Aguilar and board president Jessie Ryan responded to the revised budget’s rejection in a co-authored statement released on Friday, reiterating that the financial challenges facing the district cannot be solved overnight.
“The fiscal challenges facing Sac City Unified are the result of the district’s decades-long history of operating with an ongoing structural deficit that has not sufficiently prioritized meeting the needs of students,” Aguilar and Ryan stated.