The Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees sat down for their meeting on Thursday, June 8 after all the excitement of recent graduations and other end-of-the-school-year festivities.
Santa Clara Teacher Housing Foundation
Santa Clara Teacher Housing Foundation wants to include non-management classified staff in their housing program. The current program currently only serves certificated staff who are in their first 10 years of employment at SCUSD and provides affordable housing. Even though there is a waitlist for two-bedroom units, some one-bedroom units have remained empty. The housing needs of the District teachers have changed and to help fill in the vacancies, the Foundation thinks expanding the eligibility would help.
The Casa Del Maestro Apartment Complex has 70 units that are rented at below the market rate (80%). The tenants are allowed to stay 7 years, but Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Chief Business Official Mark A. Schiel who also serves as the Chief Financial Officer of the Foundation says they have approved some extensions because they have the vacancy.
There is no exact timeline for when the housing eligibility will be extended but the Foundation is already working on it.
We don’t need economists to tell us that most are feeling financial stress lately. Many have been suspecting when the next recession is, said Schiel, and some are saying it may rear its head between the Summer of 2023 and the Summer of 2024. Santa Clara Unified and other community-funded school districts may not feel the effects of the economic downturn right away, but they will. Since Santa Clara Unified relies heavily on property taxes and those are expected to take a hit, the District has to prepare to weather that storm.
While presenting the Proposed 2023-2024 Budget, Schiel brought attention to their multi-year projections and how the District is going to be in deficit spending very soon. In the 2022-2023 school year, revenues were higher than expenses, but that changes starting in the 2023-2024 school year. Santa Clara Unified has very healthy reserves, almost 60%, but if trends continue they could drain the reserves to just 22% by the 2027-2028 school year – Districts must have at least 3% in reserves.
Many factors aggravate this situation but an interesting issue for school districts was the one-time funds they got during the COVID-19 pandemic to start new programs and support students.
The advice? Reduce reliance on one-time revenues and reserves, says Schiel. Board Member Dr. Michele Ryan said getting out of deficit spending should be their priority. Even though the projections are far out, if they continue that trajectory, they would be in danger of getting taken over by the state if they dip below the 3% minimum.
“I want to be careful,” said Schiel. “I’m not trying to say that the sky is falling. Yes, our reserves are higher than the 3% minimum but if this trend were to continue, it shows that we have a significant decline in our reserves… that is not sustainable.”
UTSC President Margie Wysocki shared concerns about how high the reserves currently are at 60% and questioned if that money would be better spent serving students and teachers rather than sitting in the bank. Along a similar thought, Board Vice President Bonnie Lieberman said they should check on the investments they are making and make sure they are getting a return on those investments.
“If what we’re doing is working then it’s not wasted money,” said Lieberman. “I understand if you look at it with a broad brush, yeah, we’re deficit spending but if that’s what the kids need, and those programs are having the effect that we want it’s hard for me to argue against spending that money. And I realize it’s not sustainable but at the same time, we need to make sure that we’re putting that money out to serve our kids.”
Board President Vickie Fairchild said they need to see a correlation between the money they are spending and student achievement.
On another note, the State of California has made progress on its budget but the District still doesn’t know enough about the details to make specific plans so they’re working off of assumptions. Something the finance department is keeping an eye on is funding “claw-backs.” Worries are spinning that the State will cut a lot of funding that was already planned for and if there are cuts, and the District already spent the money on new programs and services, that would mean they would have to dip into reserves even more.
Board Clerk Jim Canova asked if there were claw-backs if the District had time to pivot. Schiel said it depends on when claw-backs happen. At this point, it’s too late to adjust but if they happened back in December, they would have had more wiggle room. If the claw-backs happen they would just have to be thoughtful about future expenses.
Compared to the not-so-bright projections and concerns, the proposed 2023-2024 budget looks much more positive. Property tax revenue is projected to increase by about $12.8 million compared to last school year.
Raises for staff are recorded in the 2023-2024 budget – labor is about 86% of the District’s budget, according to Schiel. Something to note, a big hit of $7 million is expected in the employee benefits category. This is because the PERS rate is increasing due to the increase in employer contributions for medical insurance.
LCAP Annual Update
The Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) is State-required and asks districts to create a three-year plan that details the how, what, and why programs and services are selected and provided to support positive student outcomes. Santa Clara Unified is in its 2021-24 LCAP cycle.
To shed more light on the LCAP, the District also got feedback from the District Advisory Committee (DAC), composed of parents, students, community members, administrators, and classified and certificated staff. Additionally, they also got feedback from the District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) for the English/Multilingual learners data in the LCAP. In May, the District community was updated on the LCAP and invited to comment on it.
There are three goals in the District’s LCAP.
- Goal 1: All students will make measurable annual progress toward mastering California Standards and toward graduation. We will raise student achievement overall and reduce the achievement gap between student groups.
- Goal 2: All students will demonstrate progress in elements of the SCUSD Vision 2035 Graduate Portrait.
- Goal 3: SCUSD will partner with family, business and community stakeholders to ensure that all students make progress in elements of the Graduate Portrait.
It is also a main focus to increase or improve services for at-risk groups like foster youth, English learners, and low-income students.
Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Brad Stam shared the changes they made this year to make progress toward their goals as they enter the final year of this LCAP. Of note, they added more focus on school safety. Also, they are focusing on improving communication with parents about access to testing accommodations. Additionally, they added new metrics to better track chronic absenteeism, summer school, CTE pathways, wellness and school safety.
Looking forward, after the 2021-24 LCAP is complete they start a new three years.
SCUSD Local Indicators
The local indicators are another State-required review. However, this one surprised the Board by how little staff or community input is gathered since it’s a self-assessment of how the District is doing and doesn’t require community feedback. However, the findings are required to be presented, so the Director of Data, Assessment and Accountability Cameron Lewis shared how they reviewed the five local measures: implementation of academic standards; access to a broad course of study; the “basics” of teachers, instructional materials, and facilities; parent and family engagement; and the local climate survey.
The Board Members thanked Lewis for the presentation and commented that though self-reflection was helpful, this state-required assessment was not very helpful as it currently is without community input. Staff said that the intent of the Local Indicators is meant to be helpful, but they want to involve more people and get more input in the future and make the data more useful to the District. However, a lot of this data is also covered in other assessments.
The Board approved hiring Iqbal Chadda as the new Principal of Central Park Elementary School. They pulled the appointment of a Vice Principal at Wilcox High School from the meeting’s agenda.
They also discussed the new job description for the Lead ERMHS Therapist. Fairchild gave the feedback that the job description should recommend knowledge in special ed and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Jose Gonzalez took note.
The Board approved the $1,674 facility use fee waiver request for the Santa Clara Parade of Champions.