EDUCATION: Why MBUSD schools are facing budget cuts and layoffs in 2024

MBUSD Administrative headquarters. Photo courtesy the MB News

by Hibah Samad

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District anticipates reducing expenditures by nearly $11.3 million over the next two years. 

On January 10, Governor Gavin Newsom released his proposed budget, kicking off the state’s six-month budget process. 

“While there is a long way to go before MBUSD has an approved state budget for the 2024-25 school year, we will need to develop our own 2024-25 budget before the state concludes its process,” MBUSD Superintendent John Bowes said. 

While student achievement in MBUSD schools has consistently ranked among the best in the State and the Nation, the District’s schools receive among the lowest per-student State funding in California. 

District officials recognized at the January 24 school board meeting that they must engage in a Reduction in Force (RIF), otherwise known as a layoffs.

“State funding for MBUSD is likely to decline,” said Bowes. “This will force tough decisions regarding layoffs of teachers and school employees as well as cuts to programs, enrichment opportunities, and services for our students. As we have experienced in the past, budget cuts require careful consideration of our priorities for our schools and students.” 

According to District officials, the reduction is based on various factors, including the following: 

State education funding: Like most school districts, MBUSD relies on the State for a vast majority of its operating funding, and Sacramento only provides funding for basic education. MBUSD’s per-student State funding level is among the lowest out of all school districts in California.

State budget deficits: Current estimates of the state budget deficit range from $38 billion to $68 billion. While the impact on school districts generally and MBUSD specifically will not be known for several months, the District does know that the State’s statutory Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) has been reduced significantly and that it must prepare for reduced funding.

Declining enrollment: Most school districts in California have experienced declines in student enrollment over the past decade, a pattern that accelerated during the pandemic. MBUSD was no exception. While MBUSD’s enrollment has begun to recover, it remains below pre-pandemic levels. The State provided some protections from precipitous drops in enrollment, but these protections are now falling away, and, with schools funded on a per-student basis, reduced enrollment results in reduced funding.

COVID emergency funding: Since 2020, all school districts have received supplemental one-time emergency State and Federal funding to help cope with changes in student enrollment, student health and safety needs, and return-to-school plans. This funding is now nearly depleted and will not be renewed.

Parcel tax funding: In 2018, Manhattan Beach voters approved Measure MB, a school parcel tax that provides approximately $2.5 million in locally-controlled funding each year that the State cannot take away. This local funding supports over 20 teaching positions, helps maintain manageable class sizes, and protects quality academic programs in math, science, technology, reading, and writing. Unless renewed by voters, Measure MB funding will expire in June 2024.

Approval of the parcel tax would reduce, but not eliminate, the need for lower spending levels. As a result, the District faces difficult decisions. Reductions will be significant and impactful to both class sizes and the programs offered at school sites in the coming years.

“Unfortunately, based on the currently available information, the District’s budget prospects are challenging. Reductions of $11.3 million are equivalent to approximately 63 staffing positions,” MBUSD Deputy Superintendent Dawnalyn Murakawa-Leopard said.

“MBUSD is a people organization,” MBUSD Board President Cathey Graves said. “Over 80% of MBUSD’s budget is used to fund personnel costs related to the teachers who educate our students, the custodians and office staff who support school operations, the counselors who attend to the success and well-being of students, the principals and administrators who lead our schools, and all of the other people who support our students and help our schools excel. Unfortunately, what that means is that to make the budget work, people will be impacted.” 

Because of the state funding structure, MBUSD’s budgetary constraints are not new. Local funding sources have become critical to the overall budget.

“The Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, PTAs, and MBX raise millions each year to supplement low state funding levels,” Bowes said. “This funding is and will continue to be essential for sustaining smaller class sizes and the exceptional programs that keep MBUSD schools among the best.”

While preliminary layoff decisions need to be made by the end of February, the District will continue to monitor developments at the state level, the outcomes of the Measure MB Parcel Tax election in March, and the MBEF Annual Appeal Campaign as it develops its budget and determines its staffing levels for 2024-25 and beyond. ER

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