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Madera Unified looking ahead

What will budget cuts mean for school district?

Now that Madera Unified has had time to digest California Governor Gavin Newsom’s revised budget, which was issued this month, Superintendent Todd Lile has kept his promise to keep the district’s employees informed on how the state’s $54.3 billion budget deficit will affect them for the remainder of this year and for the 2020-2021 school year.

Last week, Lile sent three separate messages to all employees sharing the district’s financial picture to the extent he knows it. In doing so, he attempted to answer three questions: What effect will Newsom’s budget cuts have on the MUSD budget; what should the district expect for the 2020-21 school year; and how are we going to get through this?

Lile’s short answer was, “We will survive this — together.” His long answer was a little more complicated.

For starters, Lile said the state’s $54.3 billion short fall will mean that California’s K-12 schools will suffer a $19 billion decrease in funding. According to Lile, this situation represents “unprecedented challenges” to Madera Unified.

The Governor’s new budget includes a 10 percent cut in state funding. This is particularly crucial for Madera Unified because slightly more than 80 percent of its total budget is dedicated to staff salaries, health and welfare benefits, and pension obligations. That means with the 10 percent reduction in funding, the district has only 10 percent left on which it can operate.

This 10 percent reduction equals $23 million for Madera Unified and forces the district to use reserves to prevent layoffs and furloughs.

Additionally, while the Governor allowed a 2.31 percent cost of living adjustment, it is being withheld for the 2020-21 school year. So there will be no COLA, which is used to meet all cost increases from utilities, pensions, materials, salaries, health benefits — everything.

Further, cash deferrals are expected to start this June. This means the $23 million payment from the state that was supposed to be received in June, will not come until July. Therefore, the district will have to pay employees, using reserve funds for that pay period. This reduces MUSD’s cash balance from $55 million down to $32 million in June and puts the district dangerously close to not meeting payroll if another difficult month were imposed from Sacramento.

Prudent planning has kept the district solvent and strong, which means that its reserve will help keep it afloat during this crisis. It has also allowed the district to attempt to build schools to accommodate decades of overcrowding and the persistent increase in enrollment.

The bottom line in Lile’s message to employees is “we do not anticipate that any layoffs of contracted employees will be necessary in 2020-21. This, of course, is predicated on there being no further cuts from the state or some unforeseen financial disruption.”

Lile noted that trustees are attempting to find that delicate balance between protecting students, staff, and the community on the one hand and maintaining fiscal stability on the other. He concedes that information and data can change and could force more changes in the near future.

In attempting to share what employees could expect for the 2020-21 school year, Lile wrote that MUSD will be able to retain all employees who have been offered letters of intent and are currently on contract. “We anticipate no lay-offs at this time,” he said, but “the 2021-22 school year will be more challenging.”

Lile was emphatic in his prognostication that everybody is in for a “great deal of change.” He said cuts will be made as far away from the students as possible to protect the classroom experience.

Professional travel and some student travel will be limited or possibly eliminated. Devices for distance learning will be prioritized as will a stronger community network to connect all students to broadband internet.

Safety procedures and protocols will be continued to decrease the risk of community transmission of COVID-19.

As for what the “new normal” year will look like, the district needs to be ready to “re-engage school in whatever form is deemed safe enough to proceed.” Lile said the Educational Services Department is “currently working to create multiple plans for reopening school in the fall. Alternative planning and scheduling will continue with a variety of potential scenarios reflected. These scenarios will include digital learning platforms for staff, students and parents.”

Lile says the employee unions will have multiple opportunities “to consult on these plans and schedules to insure the best working conditions and expectations possible for our students and staff.”

Lile said schools may have to temporarily close for a few days or weeks depending upon recommendations of public health officials. Personal Protective Equipment and sanitation supplies are now being stockpiled for use. Meal distributions will need to be flexible to provide students two meals a day.

While the district is working overtime to meet the health and financial crises, it is “pushing hard” to convince the state to make some adjustments in its expectations of what constitutes a “typical school year.” Some of these include:

• Funding based upon enrollment rather than Average Daily Attendance.

• Loosening of independent study regulations.

• Specialized equipment for sanitization and protection in the classroom or work stations.

• Flexibility in the number of school days required.

• Flexibility in K-8 class sizes beyond current statutory levels without penalty.

• Flexibility in physical education, graduation requirements, CTE completion, fine arts instruction, athletic participation, etc.

Lile’s cautious optimism is set against a backdrop of realism. “This next year will be very challenging for us all,” he wrote. “We will need to learn new ways to connect… and collaborate. It would be foolish to be anything but clear and honest. Next year will probably be the most difficult we’ve faced in our careers.”

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