In belt-tightening move, School Board approves staff reductions for 2023-2024

The Board of Education approved a resolution at its March 8 meeting to cut staffing levels for the 2023-2024 school year as it grapples with a tightening budget scenario. 

In her second interim budget report to the Board of Education on March 8, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Alahydoian said that for the first time since the 2018-2019 school year she was reporting a “qualified” budget — meaning the district may not be able to meet its financial obligations for the current year and two subsequent years. (California school districts are required to maintain a minimum reserve — in Piedmont that’s equal to 3% of total General Fund expenditures.) The Board approved the interim certification, acknowledging the necessity to make cuts now in order to plan appropriately for the next several years.

The vote was expected, as it was the culmination of a series of discussions related to the budget over several months, including a special budget workshop on March 1. In her March 8 presentation to the Board, Alahyodian said there were three primary reasons the district’s budget was under stress:

  • The salary and health benefit increases and one-time payments to staff that the Board approved in November and October of 2022 did not leave room for extra expenses.
  • Since the first interim budget report, some expenses have increased. Alahydoian said that Special Education expenses in particular were higher than projected. (Public schools are required to accommodate special education students, which can include paying for services outside of the district if necessary.)
  • In his proposed budget earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would claw back some of the one-time Arts, Music, and Instructional Materials (AMIM) discretionary block grant funds, established in the 2022–23 Budget Act, by $1.2 billion, from $3.5 billion to $2.3 billion. For Piedmont, this would potentially mean a loss of over $1 million.

(You can view the full slide deck presentation HERE.)

Classified staff cuts 

In 2022-23, the district hired health coordinators and added library assistants with one-time grant funds. For budgetary purposes, the district said it will also need to reduce two other positions. Under the resolution approved by the board, the following classified positions will be reduced or eliminated: FTE Health Coordinator 2.00; District Technology Specialist 1 1.00; Director of Communications 1.00, Library Assistant 0.48, Administrative Assistant 0.20.

PUSD said it will also be cutting back on discretionary funds (ie., for instructional materials) where it can.

Trustee Cory Smegal noted that the budget does not assume any raises for staff, so in the absence of an unexpected windfall, it was unlikely that these cuts could be reversed. “Before we even think about bringing anything back, we have to consider this,” she said, but noted that fundraising efforts like the Piedmont Education Foundation’s annual Spring Fling could help preserve some of the elementary school positions.

She also noted that PUSD was trying to be thoughtful about where it was reducing staffing, and that declining enrollment was also playing a role in where efficiencies and cuts could be made. 

“I’m expecting a small decline of about 40 students next year — it’s a statewide phenomenon,” Alayhodoian told the Board.

The district receives state funding based on enrollment and average daily attendance (ADA), which has been lower this year, she said. During COVID, the state allowed school districts to calculate their ADA based on 2019 figures, but that allowance is going away.

Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Wozniak said that “our enrollment at the high school this year is 781 students this year, and 745 projected next year. “We are looking at ways to possibly combine sections but also making sure seniors are prioritized,” she said. 

The final outlines of the district’s budget will be more clear at the end of May when the governor releases his revised budget. 

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