Combining money from a school fundraising campaign and anticipated funds from a federal education jobs bill, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education approved restoring over 30 staff positions that were cut from the budget earlier this year.
The school board voted Aug. 18 to use the more than $1.5 million raised through the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation’s Save Our Schools campaign and a yet-to-be-determined amount from the recently signed Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act to bring back approximately 26 certificated employee and four library coordinator positions. The restored jobs will lower class size ratios, keep elementary libraries open throughout the week and fully restore the elementary music program.
District Superintendent Tim Cuneo noted that some teachers who received pink slips under the budget cuts have since left the district and new hires may need to be made, but the district will be able to retain each of the positions lost. He added that a goal was to reduce class size ratios at the elementary level, but with the amount of funds anticipated, the ratios can be dropped at all four grade levels.
“The wonderful thing about this is that we are going to be bringing back all of our teachers,” Cuneo told the board. “There are sufficient dollars generated where we can impact all four grades, and that is tremendous.”
The Save Our Schools campaign was initiated by the education foundation to collect necessary money for the district after Measure A failed to receive the required number of votes for approval on the May ballot. School officials praised the success of the 60-day community campaign, which involved efforts such as student lemonade stands and a TV spot by celebrities.
“One of the most gratifying things is the idea that everybody was able to get together to raise money for the district as a whole,” board member Jose Escarce said.
Representatives of Save Our Schools said they were gratified to know that the initiative, which involved more than 1,000 volunteers and more than 2,000 contributors, including businesses, foundations and community members, will help restore jobs and maintain the quality of education.
“Thanks to the outstanding work of our SOS volunteers, along with an unexpected boost from the federal government, we have made significant progress in bringing almost everything back for this year,” said Linda Greenberg Gross, Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation executive director.
The federal jobs bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama on Aug. 10, authorizes $10 billion in education funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. While it has not been determined how much each district will receive, Santa Monica-Malibu could anticipate about $120 per student, or more than $1.3 million, district spokeswoman Sarah Wahrenbrock said.
Through the Save Our Schools funds, the Board of Education restored 9.5 elementary teacher positions, two high school teachers, 1.75 counselors, 2.5 music teachers and four elementary library coordinators. This will reduce class size ratios in kindergarten from 27:1 to 23:1 and in grades 1-3 from 27:1 to 25:1. The ratios will be reduced to 30:1 in grades 4-5 for non-Title 1 schools and to 27:1 in grades 4-5 for Title 1 schools.
With the anticipated federal funding, the board restored four elementary teacher positions, 1 middle school teacher, 1.25 counselors and 1.5 elementary music teachers. In addition, funding has been allocated for reading specialists and professional development for literacy and math.
Cuneo cautioned the board that the expected funding is “one-time money” and allocating it toward positions when there may not be sustainable funding in the future may force the board to make reductions again. Board President Barry Snell expressed concern with such a possibility, recalling how approving the layoffs earlier this year was one of the most difficult things he faced as a board member.
“We have been deficit spending for some time… and putting these jobs back could possibly put us in a worse situation if certain things don’t happen,” Snell said.
Leah Mendelson of the Save Our Schools campaign stressed to the board that the funding is from a “jobs bill” and she supports using it to bring back district jobs today.
“I believe we should be thinking positively about this federal money and that we should be using it now,” she said.
Escarce said he felt comfortable making the allocation because for at least one year, it would maximize the services the district can provide to students.
Others remain hopeful that the schools will benefit from additional funding if a city sales use tax is approved on the November ballot. The measure includes an advisory measure for voters to decide if they support using half of the acquired funding for schools.
“I have a lot of hope and faith in the community in terms of winning in November the necessary funds to keep and sustain the quality of our public schools,” board member Oscar de la Torre said.