A standing-room-only board room at Manhattan Beach Unified’s meeting last week awaited the school board’s decision on some district employees’ jobs.
Board members voted 4-1, with Bill Fournell dissenting, to issue pink slips for roughly 40 positions, including counselors, elementary P.E. teachers and subject specialists for the 2020-2021 school year. The potential cuts, according to the district, will save $3.6 million to fix a budget deficit.
“Our time is right now to make these reductions,” Superintendent Michael Matthews said, adding that the cuts cannot wait another year, and there is not one fix-all solution for the district’s budget.
“There’s not one of these recommendations where I say this is the right thing to do,” Matthews said, but, he added, it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.
The board will give the potential reductions a final review March 4, and if it approves them, affected employees will receive pink slips, or preliminary layoff notices, by March 15. It is unclear whether all listed employees will actually be laid off.
If implemented, the layoffs will affect all schools, and come as decreasing reserves, known as rainy day funds, allow less room for the district’s specialized programs like elementary music. Board members mulled over different reduction options and position values — like saving assistant principals, who were originally slated for potential layoffs — for nearly three hours before reaching the decision.
“There’s not a single program in there we’d like to see cut,” said Hilary Mahan, executive director of the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, an organization that raises money to maintain and enhance the city’s schools. Many of the programs that may take hits are funded through MBEF.
The structural deficit is nothing new, Matthews said, noting that it’s been an issue for nearly six years. Reserves have dwindled reserves from 30% in the 2011-12 school year, to the state required 3% minimum today.
The board plans to balance its budget by eliminating “zero period” for sixth grade and increasing class sizes for grades 6-12. Potential personnel reductions include cutting 11 staff members, to align with decreasing enrollment, and trimming:
- elementary P.E teaching positions from 4.2 to 2.3;
- library resource specialist positions from 5.5 to 2.7;
- counselor positions from 6.3 to 4.8;
- music assistant positions from 3.7 to 2.2;
- reading specialist positions from 3.8 to 3;
- science specialist positions from 4.2 to 2.5;
- program specialist positions from 2.4 to 2; and
- elementary music teaching positions from 3.5 to 3.
The potential reductions also include eliminating:
- Mira Costa’s certificated librarian;
- elementary arts;
- the licensed clinical social worker;
- teachers on special assignment for literacy, technology and math; and
- the special education coordinator.
Declining enrollment made staff reductions imminent even without a budget deficit, Matthews said, and new state funding per student is $130, while the district’s expenditures per student will be about $371 next school year.
Upcoming potential dips in the state’s cost-of-living adjustment — from 3% to 2.3% — which keeps employee salaries and benefits aligned with economic inflation, Matthews said, make MBUSD’s budget reductions even more urgent.
About 10 concerned parents and staff, of nearly 100 present, lobbied to keep the counseling, physical education and specialist positions during public comment. Cathey Graves, parent and vice president of health and wellness at Mira Costa, was among them.
“It’s super important to realize the effect these counselors have on our children,” Graves said.
“Based on a recent Beach Cities Health District survey,” Graves said, “40% of 11th graders (in the beach cities) are reporting that they are anxious or depressed.”
Nearly 20% of them have reported seriously considering dying by suicide in the past year.
In that same survey, she added, 40% of beach city students said they go to their counselors in difficult situations.
About 10 years ago, Graves said, the district was in a similar predicament: fighting for P.E. and science programming.
MBUSD in the past five years has reduced $2 million of spending to prevent cutting personnel, Matthews said, in professional development, instructional materials, technology and other departments.
Parents at the lectern questioned why MBEF’s endowment cannot fix the deficit, but officials said that would only repeat the cycle, creating even more difficult holes to fill in the future.
During the city’s Support Our Schools week, from March 21-28, local businesses will give back to schools through MBEF. The foundation will work hard to support the district’s remaining programs, Mahan said.
Editors note: This article has been edited to reflect the correct number of district employees that may remain employed following the budget cuts.