Despite the turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) will see a budget boost of nearly $20 million over the previous school year.
According to numbers presented to the school board by Jim Sullivan, administrator of VUSD Family and Community Services, the district’s coffers should contain around $387 million from local, state and federal sources for the 2020-21 school year. That’s just over $20 million more than the $366.6 million in income for the previous budget cycle.
CARES Act Closes Gap
The district’s primary source of revenue was from the state in the form of Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) financing, which this year is down by approximately $13 million. The difference was more than made up by emergency federal funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to the tune of more than $30 million.
Of the $30,434,440 in CARES funding directed to the VUSD, $29,059,440 has been earmarked for “high need” students, such as English-learners, foster children and the disabled.
“The part that was not designated was the money we paid for masks and cleaning,” Sullivan said. “Out of the $30 million, you can see we did about half a million in that.”
The actual remainder is closer to $1.3 million.
While the pandemic made incoming funding amounts uncertain at times, it also changed the district’s spending schedule, Sullivan said.
In the 2019-20 budget, the district planned to spend $62 million on high-need students. But, the closure of schools and the end of in-person instruction dropped the VUSD’s operating costs substantially, meaning only $55 million was spent of the $62 million budgeted.
“Part of that was because we closed early, so therefore we had a lot of unspent funds by school sites, […] by different departments, including the Curriculum Department, that we needed for subs [substitute teachers,]” Sullivan said. “That’s where all those funds were allocated, and obviously we didn’t use them.”
Spending Details Lacking
The numbers Sullivan presented were part of the VUSD’s annual Budget Overview for Parents (BOP), a document the district is required by the state to publish annually. The report is basic by design, providing almost no details of income sources or spending. This was cause of concern for some parents, who want the report to contain a more nuanced look at VUSD’s finances.
“To my knowledge, not once has staff presented a detailed expenditure report based solely on the CARES funds,” said VUSD constituent Nick Macias.
Macias asked for a report including details of expenditures, the district’s spending plan for its CARES funding, as well as a report on how the added federal funds will change the VUSD’s spending.
“What are they offsetting, what are they pushing money off, and how does it fit into the overall budget?” Macias asked.
Just the Big Picture
Sullivan said the BOP — which is now available online at the district’s website, vusd.org — is only intended to give those interested in how the district spends its money a quick look at the books.
“It doesn’t talk about the actual expenses,” Sullivan said. “It talks about big picture items.”
The VUSD’s budget — also available for overview on the district’s website — is discussed and approved by the trustees each summer, and the BOP is an extremely simplified version of the final detailed budget generated during that process. While the BOP is already available online, it will be officially “presented” in January during a meeting of the District Advisory Committee.
Newly appointed Board President Juan Guarrero had questions about how the BOP was produced. He appeared concerned about public input.
“What stakeholder feedback did we get?” he asked. “Has it gone out to parents? Were they commenting?”
“It’s (the BOP) still based on the plan that you approved in August,” Sullivan said.
VUSD Board Reorganization
In other VUSD news, the board of trustees saw the appointment of three new members in the wake of the certification of the November 3 election results. Taking seats on the board for the first time were Megan Casebeer-Soleno (replacing Niessen Foster), Christopher Pope (replacing Dr. Lucia Vázquez) and Jacqueline Gaebe (replacing William Fulmer).
The board also completed its annual reorganization of officers. Taking the board presidency is Trustee Gurrero, who previously held the position of board clerk. The new board clerk is Trustee Walta Gamoian.
Remaining on the board with terms expiring in 2022 are John Crabtree, the previous board president who faced a failed recall effort, and Joy Naylor.