Manhattan Beach Unified is having a public budget meeting Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 to discuss imminent layoffs due to a dwindling rainy day fund. (Photo by Tyler Shaun Evains, The Beach Reporter/SCNG)

Manhattan Beach’s school board may have some tough choices to make in the coming months.

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District has to reduce spending by $3 million in the 2020-21 budget or else face having its rainy day fund dip below the state-mandated minimum, according to a recent newsletter from Superintendent Michael Matthews.

Matthews, in his letter, also said at least 30 staff members could be laid off next school year if the $3 million isn’t cut elsewhere — though it’s unclear if those firings would actually occur even if the district doesn’t hit that goal.

The district held a public meeting Wednesday, Jan. 15, to inform and gather input from the community.

California requires a school district’s reserves to be at least 3% of its general fund, or, in Manhattan Beach Unified’s case, $2.6 million. The district’s reserves, though, have dwindled steadily in recent years, from 28% of the general fund in 2011-12 to about 9% in 2018-19. The state also requires the district to show a balanced budget for three years, something made difficult with rising costs, Matthews said.

“Even though the state is giving more funds to schools, the increased costs MBUSD (is) facing make that a negative,” Matthews said. “That is only sustainable for so long.”

Those rising costs come largely from personnel, Matthews said, including health insurance, pension, cost of living and special education.

The district, over the years, has found creative ways to save money, with Matthews citing the PTA paying for school supplies and the parent-support group MBX Foundation providing nearly all funding for athletics and activities.

The Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, according to Executive Director Hilary Mahan, has a yearly goal of bringing in $5 million (this fiscal year, it hit $6.5 million) to the district, or about 8% of its budget. That pays the salaries of more than 75 educators, according to the foundation’s website.

A parcel tax voters approved in 2018, meanwhile, raises $2.4 million annually for teachers, school programs and supplies. Measure MB, Matthews said, saved up to 50 staff members from layoffs in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years — and reduced severity of the cuts being made now.

But still, it’s not enough.

“It’s going to have to be people,” Matthews said of the looming cuts, “administrators, support staff, teachers.

“If 83% of our budget is (spent) on people, our cuts have to be personnel reductions,” he added. “We (already) reduced in every department — technology, maintenance, textbook budgets, supply budgets — you name it.”

Unless something changes, 30 employees will receive pink slips — otherwise known as layoff notices — by March 15.

After losing staff, Matthews said, schools may see increased class sizes and reductions in recently revived programs, such as elementary physical education, extra science programs and additional counseling.

But receiving a pink slip doesn’t mean you’ve lost your job. And, at many districts across Southern California, you rarely do.

The school board ultimately has to decide if those who received pink slips should be let go. And because of political pressure, particularly from parents, those layoffs are typically fewer than the number of pink slips issued. Critics made that very point when pink slips went out in 2018.

And Wednesday's public input will likely play a role.

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