School officials revealed a $63.7 million shortfall in the 2021 academic year budget on Wednesday night.
Business administrator Richard “Leon” Matthews said the numbers are “very preliminary.” He expects the shortfall to decrease as the budgeting process gets into full swing in the coming weeks and months.
“Our expenses: salaries, benefits, and other cost drivers have been increasing at a much faster rate than our revenues. Therefore, we’re starting every year with a major deficit,” said Matthews.
Employee benefits jumped by $10 million from $66.53 million to $76.53. Charter school transfers jumped by $9.4 million from $63.8 to $73.2 million. Non-salary items like substitute and cleaning contracts jumped by $22 million from $147 to $169 million, according to figures presented to the school board.
Matthews’ budget for 2021 lists a 3-percent property tax increase. Tax levy increases by $1.4 million from $47.4 million to $48.85 million. His budget also lists a flat state education funding amount of $439.25 million.
The local levy increase is the only source of revenue increase in the budget, said Matthews. Last year, the district raised property taxes by 14-percent.
“It kind of feels like déjà vu all over again,” said school board member Manny Martinez. Indeed, last school year the district started with a $43.62 million budget shortfall, which ultimately led to 128 employee layoffs, including 88 teachers.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer in September said 1,000 classes have 30 or more students.
“We can’t cut another staff member,” said school board vice president Nakima Redmon. “We can’t keep cutting and we can’t keep taxing.”
Longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges said the district has been trying to rehabilitate the planetarium at Panther Academy for years; however, due to shortage of funds the effort has been repeatedly put off.
School board president Oshin Castillo said the district will host a retreat to further discuss the budget.
The district’s overall proposed budget is $577.15 million.