Santa Paula Times
SPUSD: Board has at times heated discussion over district finances
Published:  March 22, 2017

Members of the Santa Paula Unified School District Board had an at times heated discussion at a special meeting held February 21 to examine and gauge district finances. 

Last year the district adopted a $63.4-million General Fund budget for Fiscal-Year 2016-2017. The General Fund pays salaries and benefits, buys books and supplies and takes care of services and other operating expenses.

“It’s a very important meeting,” Superintendent Alfonso Gamino told the board as the district, like others in the state, have to deal with less onetime funding and more expenditures.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance Donna Rose gave the board members the budget calendar and noted the up and downs of outside funding.

“We’re now going back to lower revenues, slower growth,” and funding, such as Proposition 98, “not as robust.” 

The Department of Finance has “more positive views” but overall funding seems to be on the downswing.

And that also applies to the SPUSD: Rose told the board there is an anticipated funding gap that will be confirmed, or preferably disproved, later this year.

The projected $1.3 million shortfall in revenue is especially sensitive as other costs are rising, including PERS retirement benefits increasing for classified employees. 

Overall, said Rose at the conclusion of her report, “It’s not the most positive news…”

The board heard other news regarding personnel and declining enrollments that will likely cause the creation of more combination classes on elementary school campuses.

After about an hour of discussion and comments Board Member Derek Luna said it was time to “focus on the negatives” and gauge “what is not working at all.”

He said the report from the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP) Committee — which describes how districts intend to meet annual goals for all pupils, with specific activities to address state and local priorities identified pursuant to law — noted that in several categories more effective communication was needed including for parents. 

“I saw that multiple times in here, it’s not working,” which Luna said is costing the district $120,000 in LCAP funds.

“Is that the entire salary?” Luna asked.

Rose said the amount covers salary, plus benefits and PERS.

Luna gave several examples where more communication was needed and said, “Personally, I was at a wedding two weeks ago,” where he spoke to officials with other school districts who said they do not have PIOs.

“They both recommended we do not have a PIO,” specifically if there are no specifics about duties and responsibilities.

“I think” Luna said of the position, “it’s a waste of public funds.”

Board Member Michelle Kolbeck questioned why the district doesn’t have one calendar with all school activities listed rather than nine schools separately.

“Many times I would call the school,” to determine activities. “That’s our problem, our own people,” have trouble with it, so Kolbeck asked how parents could be expected to garner information

Luna said he would rather support students rather than with present communications costing the district $120,000 annually.

“The reason we did was because we needed to sell our schools, tell everybody what is good about our schools,” said Board Member Christina “Tina” Urias. 

“I think our PIO Is doing that. Santa Paula has gotten a bad rap in the past and a lot of good things are going on in the schools…that is why five of us agreed to hire,” a Public Information Officer.

Urias said the online calendar would be fixed and noted “I’ve seen our own PIO at various events.

Luna agreed that the district could use good publicity but the cost is still too high. 

“I’m not talking about increasing Facebook pages,” he noted but rather strong community relations. 

Board Member Pam Thompson said overall in Southern California, SPUSD is “At the head of the curve” with having “a community officer on board…”

Board President Kelsey Stewart said a PIO helps schools on different levels.

Overall, Kolbeck expressed some dissatisfaction with the discussion so far about the district and its finances.

“We really don’t’ have any way of measuring, we put all this funding here,” as a list, “But there’s still not a column that says this helps 500 students,” to show end results. 

“Funding is supposed to help as many students as possible,” and without such information, said Kolbeck, “I think we’re missing the boat…”