During his visit to WISPPA’s Community Challenges Forum last Saturday morning, School Board President Jon Primuth spoke in depth about the financial challenges currently facing South Pasadena Unified School District.
Primuth identified three major “moving pieces” as the most influential factors affecting the District’s budget.
The first, he said, is the amount of money the District receives from the State based on the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The Board of Education President said the LCFF provides “roughly 80 to 90 percent of [the District’s] budget.”
Primuth’s concern is that while the amount of money South Pasadena Unified receives from the state is increasing annually, “the formula actually disadvantages South Pasadena relative to other districts,” especially when pension obligations are taken into account.
Primuth was quick to add that the disproportionate funding certain school districts receive is “for some very good reasons. We don’t have as many kids that need extra services, that is a legitimate reason.”
However, he said, that doesn’t change the fact “that we are resource-challenged compared to other districts.”
“The tide is rising,” Primuth continued, “and our boat is not going up as fast.”
This, combined with personnel obligations, makes it difficult for the District to push for new initiatives and even meet the needs of existing ones, such as the push to improve South Pasadena’s Special Needs education.
“Special Ed, for which we have to provide more and more to create a continuum of services for all the different types of special needs children, is a huge challenge. We have an amazing team but it’s an expensive proposition,” Primuth said.
The second huge challenge for the District, continued the President, is pension contributions, which are projected to more than double in the next ten years. 58 percent of school districts in the state have started using their reserves to meet their pension obligations.
Staff funding, such as salary, benefits, and pension liabilities account for around 80 percent of the District’s nearly $47 million budget, Primuth said.
“Last year alone,” he said, “we paid nearly $2.8 million in pension obligations to the state.”
“This is a mandate, we don’t have a choice in this,” Primuth emphasized. “We have to pay 12.5 percent of all of our compensation to CalPERS or CalSTRS this year and it goes up another two percent next year.”
One important demographic this affects, Primuth said, are teachers and administrators.
“This year we couldn’t afford to give teachers an ongoing pay raise,” he said, “so we gave them a one-time pay raise,” meaning that this year’s increase will not be included in the employee’s base salary going forward.
The third factor that contributes to the District’s budget, said Primuth, is local funding, especially money brought in by the South Pasadena Educational Foundation and the local Parcel Tax, which is up for renewal on Feb. 27. “Other districts have a much wealthier demographic and they get a lot more money, but SPEF does an amazing job for what they have, putting in hundreds if not thousands of hours into local fundraising,” he said.
Last week, ballots were sent to residences of registered voters to decide whether or not the District will renew the Parcel Tax. Also known as Measure S, if renewed, the tax will bring in $2.3 million in funds annually. “Now that I am off District grounds, I can say, ‘Please continue to support the Parcel Tax’,” Primuth concluded.