PUSD is facing a major $2 million gap this coming year due to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on state education funding. Cuts to some school programs and a freeze on new hires in order to prioritize the health and safety of teachers and students, make provisions for distance learning, and preserve core curriculum appear inevitable as the district prepares to re-open schools in August.
At the Wednesday School Board meeting, PUSD’s Budget Director Ruth Alahydoian outlined the grim details of how the Governor’s May budget revision impacts the District in a presentation she gave to the Budget Advisory Committee last week. The state projects a $54.3 billion shortfall through 2021 due to lost revenue from the shutdown and increased costs due to the health crisis; public education is the largest part of the state’s budget.
The PUSD budget that will be adopted at the end of June will be created with “with many puzzle pieces still unknown,” Alahydoian noted in her presentation. Because federal and state governments allowed for a three month delay in filing personal income taxes, the state won’t know what those receipts will be until July 15, two weeks after school budgets must be adopted. Also unknown: the full costs of operating schools in a COVID-19 environment.
Alahydoian noted that the May Revision is also missing some options that were employed during earlier financial crises to ease the financial burden on school districts, such as giving them flexibility to reduce instructional year and minutes without penalty or to extend the ADA (Average Daily Attendance) “hold harmless” provision. (The state uses a school district’s ADA to determine its funding.)
Alahydoian highlighted a few bright spots:
- The Piedmont Education Foundation (PEF) approved a total grant to PUSD of $3.3 million, $600,000 more than anticipated.
- $2.6 million of Measure H funds meant to be used toward compensation and recruiting could be used in bargaining to keep staff and minimize layoffs.
- The base rate for special education funding increased slightly to $645 = $185,000 for PUSD
- CalPRS/CalSTRS rates were reduced through 2022 = $544,000 in reduced costs for PUSD
“Thank goodness for PEF and the voters of Piedmont for Measure H. This money will be extremely helpful in the budget stabilization process and shows the strength of the community,” said Board member Cory Smegal.
Frustration with state and federal leadership was evident. “We’ve been given an impossible task. We’re asked to provide more but have been given less,” said Booker noting the increased costs related to distance learning, facility cleaning, and other health and safety measures that will need to be in place by August. Board President Amal Smith was blunt about state funding for schools.
“It frustrates me to no end that the state is dropping the ball again. Thank god for support from the community – PEF, parcel tax — or we would be in worse shape.”
School Board members gave Superintendent Randall Booker some direction in how to prioritize the tough budget decisions that will need to be made before the end of June. Safely opening schools topped the list, followed by creating connections and social and emotional wellbeing, keeping teachers and staff in district, trying to minimize layoffs and repositioning staff as necessary. “We want the best educational experience under the circumstances,” said Smith.
Board member Andrea Swenson was candid about what might be impacted in a COVID-19 learning environment. “This is not a normal budget-cutting time,” she said. “There are some natural cuts that will have to be made because of COVID, certain programs we can’t offer because we won’t be allowed to offer them. What’s PE going to look like? And acting, and a capella? My hope is that we can trim around edges and not decimate the base program.”
There will be a public hearing on June 10 regarding the proposed 2020-2021 budget, with final adoption on June 24. (Alameda County adjusted its original deadline from June 5 to June 24 to allow districts more time to develop their budgets and for public discussion.)
On June 10 PUSD administrators will submit to the Board an executive summary of the results of the Thoughtexchange survey tool. Parents, teachers, and students have been asked to respond to one question:
What are the most important things our school district needs to think about as we continue to respond to COVID-19 and plan for the future?