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The San Dieguito Union High School District headquarters in Encinitas. File photo
Carlsbad Featured Vista

Budget cuts loom large over Carlsbad, Vista school districts

REGION — School districts across the state received unwelcomed news regarding Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal.

The governor’s preliminary budget, which was released May 13, calls for a 10% cut to education as a result of a $54 billion budget deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Carlsbad, the projected cuts may result in a $9 million loss in funding, while Vista is estimating a $20 million reduction in funds.

All options are on the table, according to the district’s administrative leadership. As for the Carlsbad Unified School District, Assistant Superintendent Chris Wright said layoffs are not being discussed, while the Vista Unified School District board of trustees and administration said during its May 21 special meeting potential furloughs, layoffs and other cuts are possibilities.

And while Newsom’s budget calls for a 10%, Wright and his VUSD business services counterpart, Ami Shackelford, said due to the cost of living adjustment figures push the total reduction to 7.92%.

“Per their guidance, as of right now if it holds, they are going to add funding to special education and STRS and PERS,” Wright said of the State Teachers and Public Employees retirement systems’ pension funds. “We’ll have to make really good smart decisions on how to reduce so we absolutely minimize the impacts to students and staff and families.”

Both districts reviewed the May revised budget, which was also analyzed during a forum by the School Services of California last week, Wright said. The state must pass its Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget by June 30, which is after each district expects to pass their budgets.

Newsom’s budget cuts, though, are tied to the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion bill for coronavirus relief. If the act is signed by President Donald Trump, the funds allocated for states would backfill the proposed cuts by Newsom.

Wright and Shackelford, though, said they are wary of the strategy and are not relying on the funding as Wright said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not act on the bill.

“There’s a bunch of triggers in the budget if we get federal money,” Wright said. “I’m not hopeful for the federal money at all. It’s (HEROES Act) got a lot of weird stuff in there. We’ll plan for the worst and if something better happens, then great.”

Wright said Newsom’s budget had some rays of light, noting the increase in special education funding and lowering the pension debt requirements. However, Wright said higher pension responsibilities could come back on district’s in the future and once tax funding returns as the economy recovers.

In Vista, meanwhile, the district had already cut $13.9 million from the FY 2020-21 budget before the pandemic crushed tax revenues relied on by school districts for funding. VUSD is looking at an additional $20 million reduction in funding, putting the district in a more financially desperate situation.

The school district has seen a reduction of about 8,000 students over the past 15 years due to transfers and charter schools, which has a direct impact on funding.

Pre-pandemic, the state used student attendance as one of the main funding formulas, but this year it has been changed to enrollment as schools transitioned to distance learning.

Still, Shackelford said VUSD may ease the $20-million reduction through several sources, including up to $2 million less in pension costs and a potential $4.1 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds.

“We can also get a temporary loan from the county,” Shackelford said. “The next six weeks there will be a lot of changes and information coming our way.”