Despite the bleak report by State Schools Chief School Board members say everything will be OK if cost-cutting programs continue
The Culver City Unified School District is among the roughly 15 percent of districts statewide that regulators say are in questionable financial shape and may eventually be forced into bankruptcy.
The CCUSD is one of 160 districts across California to receive a “qualified” financial outlook in a report issued by the state Department of Education last week. The ratings outlook suggests that more cuts at local Culver schools will soon have to be made to avoid an eventual bankruptcy filing, although the risk of such a filing does not appear to be imminent.
Other Southland districts that find themselves in the same unenviable position include Santa Monica-Malibu Unified, Inglewood Unified, Pasadena Unified and the giant L.A. Unified.
The outlook is even worse for the Lynwood Unified School District, the only one in Los Angeles County that Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell suggests is unlikely to avoid bankruptcy based on its currently approved budget.
Some members of the Culver City School Board said that they’re concerned about the State Superintendant’s new report, but added that there’s little chance that the district will eventually be forced into bankruptcy—provided that its long cost-cutting program continues.
“There’s no way that [the district] is going to file for bankruptcy,” said School Board Vice President Scott Zeidman on Friday. “None. Absolutely ‘zero.’ ”
Schools across California have been struggling to pay their bills as tax revenues have fallen in lock-step with the sluggish economy and dropping property-tax proceeds. Despite inflation, state funding for the district has already plunged to 2003 levels and could dwindle even further, Zeidman said.
In a press release, interim CCUSD Supt. Patricia Jaffe said, “We continue to do the best we can with what we have.”
Jaffe added that the school district continues to work with unions that represent teachers and other city employees “to address financial issues and explore other ways to cut costs.”
Zeidman noted that last week’s report by the state is based on revenues and expenses that are expected to be generated over each of the next three years. Results of this complex forecasting method can change dramatically over time, especially after cutbacks that might be made in a year or two are factored into the equation.
Technically, Zeidman said, cost-reductions that the Board has already made—as well as unpaid work furloughs and other concessions that the district’s union members have previously approved—suggest that the district will actually show a $5-million budget surplus in the 2010-2011 fiscal year that has just begun and a modest $100,000 or so surplus in fiscal 2011-2012.
But in the third year, he added, “We’re going to be about $5 million in the hole” if more cutbacks are not made soon.
Ironically, Zeidman noted, the school district has about $6 million in reserves sitting in its so-called “capital-improvements” fund but cannot use any of the money to offset its budget woes. That’s because money in the fund can only be used for construction-related projects: By law, the cash cannot be used to pay teachers or to meet other operating expenses.
The law’s requirements mean that “We could use the money to build a new library but could not use [the cash] to buy books or hire librarians, or that we could make the improvements needed to re-open the city’s indoor-swimming pool but could not use the money to pay for lifeguards and keep the pool cleaned.”
The School Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 13. The agenda and related information can be viewed at its recently revised internet web site, www.ccusd.org.