Sacramento City Unified approves budget that relies on reserves – and faces county rejection

The Sacramento City Unified School District on Thursday night approved adoption of its budget for the upcoming school year – despite concern that the district is still spending more than $12 million in reserves to balance its books, which officials say is not fiscally sustainable.

The budget will be rejected when it is submitted to the Sacramento County Office of Education, according to the district’s contracted budget consultant, Jacquie Canfield.

The county has already disapproved Sacramento City Unified’s budget twice since August, and the district has been under threat of a state takeover as it expected to run out of cash this fall. But officials say the budget plan lets the district avoid seeking an emergency state loan until fall 2020 – buying time to achieve permanent savings through negotiations with its teachers union.

“We will take some time to carefully review this budget after you approve it,” said Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David Gordon. “It’s crucial that you and your labor partners collaborate and look through the entire budget ... to run the district effectively.”

Earlier this month, Canfield had identified more than $5 million in savings after combing through the budget. And in May, the district said it had corrected an enrollment error in which more than 700 Sacramento City Unified students in five schools were not accounted for. Because school funding is based on student enrollment, the error caused the district to underestimate its revenue by millions of dollars.

In her budget report at the board meeting Thursday – the district’s last for this school year – Canfield said enrollment continues to decline. In the last two years, about 200 students left the district, according to a report by the company DecisionInsite. Its projections indicate a steady decline in future years.

But the Sacramento City Teachers Association said DecisionInsite’s report included many errors. For example, the union said the district continues to exclude enrollment numbers from some independent programs, and projects enrollment declines at competitive schools such as Crocker Riverside Elementary, which currently has a waitlist.

Canfield said the more information the district provides to DecisionInsite, the better the enrollment projections will be.

“DecisionInsite didn’t have the information to know that this was a school in demand,” Canfield said of Crocker Riverside. “If they know that the schools will have the students, we will maintain the staffing there.”

The teachers union called for the district to rescind recent layoffs of dozens of certificated teachers, after the termination of several K-12 and child care development teachers was canceled.

The school board on Thursday also unanimously voted to give Superintendent Jorge Aguilar a positive evaluation in his end-of-the-year review.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.