The La Cañada Unified School District will receive $1.5 million more in revenue from the state this school year than it did last year but will still be operating with an $800,000 deficit, according to a final budget passed Tuesday night.
School board members voted unanimously to approve the $36.6-million budget, a revision that takes into account Gov. Jerry Brown's new school-funding model, but stressed the need for fiscal prudence and an end to deficit spending moving forward.
The board also formally passed a resolution declaring its unanimous support for a community petition requesting the integration of the western section of La Cañada, known as the Sagebrush area, into school district boundaries. The declaration follows a June 3 resolution passed by the La Cañada Flintridge City Council.
Ruben Rojas, recently hired as LCUSD's chief business and operations operator, presented the details of the new budget and the impact of the state's new funding formula at Tuesday's meeting.
"We've actually gained, by virtue of the new funding model, about $1.5 million. It's true we did not lose revenue, we gained revenue," Rojas said.
According to the new budget, La Cañada Unified will receive $6,167 per average daily attendance (ADA). One student who attends every school day equals one ADA. The old funding model would have brought in only $5,320, according to district figures.
The new model, called the Local Control Funding Formula, offers additional money for disadvantaged districts and low-income students and English Language Learners, but the La Cañada district does not demographically qualify for that.
The school board passed an earlier budget June 18, just four days after passage of the state budget, to keep the district in compliance with mandated deadlines. Officials knew then that La Cañada Unified would have 45 days to submit a revised budget using the new funding formula figures.
That budget, in the amount of $35.2 million, was passed before the district-approved 2% salary increases for its union employees retroactive to July 2012. The new budget does account for that, which is partly why expenditures exceed revenue.
Rojas praised the district for its cautious maintenance of reserve funds beyond what is recommended by the California School Boards Assn., but emphasized the need to reduce the deficit sooner rather than later. LCUSD maintains a 3.5% reserve as opposed to the recommended 3%.
"We are living beyond our means and that's a real critical factor," he said. "We either have to increase our revenue or we have to decrease our expenditures — there's no Harry Potter magic dust that's going to fix everything."
One potential revenue source could come in the form of a new parcel tax, which will appear on a mail-in ballot this spring. A renewal of the tax, set to expire in spring 2014, could bring anywhere from $900,000 to $3.2 million of annual revenue into the district.
Though the budget was a first-read item, it was brought to a vote on an emergency basis, as the deadline for submitting the final budget is Aug. 9.
Despite the evening's focus on finances, most in attendance at Tuesday's meeting were there to hear news on the resolution regarding the Sagebrush area. Board President Scott Tracy said district officials have met three times with members of Glendale Unified School District, which currently maintains jurisdiction of that area, and that the districts are "heading down parallel paths" toward an understanding on the issue.
"We don't know if that will be a successful path or not," Tracy clarified.
According to Tracy, Glendale Unified has asked LCUSD to prepare a memorandum of understanding it might discuss in a future closed-session board meeting.
Tom Smith, chair of the citizens' committee that brought the most recent request before the City Council, said the next steps were crucial.
"It's incumbent on us to have good discussions with Glendale and not have acrimonious discussions," Smith said. "There are a lot of mixed ideas, things that need to be considered thoughtfully."
Board member Joel Peterson, who also sits on the L.A. County Committee on School District Organization — the group ultimately responsible for approving the territory transfer — recused himself from voting on the resolution. The final vote was 3-0, as board member Ellen Multari was away on vacation. The audience erupted in applause when the resolution's passage was announced.