WCCUSD passes budget to stave off insolvency and state takeover
on June 30, 2022
The West Contra Costa Unified School District board passed a 2022-23 budget Wednesday that is more than $16 million in the red.
This deficit is part of the reason why the $485.6 million budget includes a fiscal solvency plan. The plan is needed because WCCUSD is no longer financially healthy and cannot meet its financial obligations, according to Robert McEntire, interim chief business officer. He said the district will run out of cash during the 2023-24 fiscal year, unless it is able to make the appropriate cuts.
In March, the board voted against a proposal to cut 93 teaching positions. The layoffs were proposed to address the need to trim $34.8 million from the budget. Due to declining enrollment, some schools are overstaffed, McEntire told the board.
To address the financial problems, the Contra Costa County Office of Education assigned WCCUSD a financial adviser, Javetta Cleveland, who has 35 years of experience in school financing, including in the Berkeley Unified School District, and attended school in Richmond.
Cleveland urged the board to approve the budget despite the deficit. She noted the fiscal recovery plan is part of the budget, meaning that to support the solvency plan the members would have to vote yes to the entire budget. Failing to do so by the end of June would have forced the county education board to develop their own spending plan for the district.
Only board member Mister Phillips voted no on the budget.
“There’s no reason this budget cannot be balanced,” he said. “I will be voting no because I cannot support out-of-control spending. I do support the solvency plans.”
The district is hoping for an infusion of state money that would stabilize the general fund for the next three years. The governor and Legislature are still hashing out the state budget, but both have proposed significant increases in school funding. Kevin Gordon, one of the district’s financial consultants, told the board on June 15 that the state education budget is shaping up to be “one of the best budgets we’ve seen in a few decades.” He said the district could use some of that money to shore up its base and make the general fund more stable.
But the $35 million or so that could come to WCCUSD would be one-time money, meaning it wouldn’t solve the district’s structural budget issues. And it wasn’t factored into the budget proposal.
Connected to the budget is the Local Control and Accountability Plan, which districts use to set goals and priorities. The board voted to accept the LCAP Wednesday, with Jamela Smith-Folds abstaining.
“What we didn’t have tonight was a board willing to allow its elected officials to adequately and publicly ask questions about that plan,” Smith-Folds said over email Wednesday night. “This is a foundational document used to guide the budget, [School Plan for Student Achievement], Strategic Plans and a host of other policies and programs in the district.”
Broadly, the LCAP includes goals under three categories: achieving students, thriving employees, and caring schools. While the district is being asked to layoff staff and teachers to achieve solvency, the LCAP — which is devised with the help of community members — recommends hiring more teachers and staff to meet its goals.
Smith-Folds asked during the meeting how the district can reconcile the need to hire in the LCAP with the need to cut in the solvency plan.
“We have a plan so people heavy and dependent (the LCAP) but we don’t have a plan in place if primarily the people can’t be hired,” Smith-Folds said by email Thursday.
Smith-Folds has asked for a session dedicated to the budget so that board members and the community have time to comprehend it and ask questions.
The budget likely will be revised in the coming weeks after the Legislature sets the state education budget.
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