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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

CEF positions itself to fill gaps left by budget cuts

by Rebecca Norden-Bright | intern@claremont-courier.com

It’s likely that it will be a challenging few years for Claremont Unified School District (CUSD), as it faces inevitable budget reductions at the state level and high costs associated with implementing new instructional models for at least the 2020-21 school year. 

However, the district’s financial situation for the upcoming year is better than initially projected, as Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lisa Shoemaker announced at a special meeting of the school board on July 8.

This is due to the budget passed by the California legislature and approved by Governor Gavin Newsom on June 29, which does not include a 10 percent cut to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that was written into the governor’s initial proposal in May. The LCFF is used by the state to award money to schools, and accounts for the majority of CUSD’s general fund revenue.

Additionally, the district received some one-time financial support from the state to help cover costs related to implementing a remote instructional model. 

“We’re going to have a ton of one-time costs associated with implementing this, from curriculum development to putting up barriers to additional cleaning to nutrition services,” said Ms. Shoemaker at the July 8 meeting. “The state has provided us with some one-time monies to cover those things, so that’s going to be extremely helpful,” she added. 

Although CUSD’s funding needs are expected to be met for this year, many of the cuts written into the governor’s initial budget plan will be inevitable eventually, leading to challenges in years to come.

In lieu of the LCFF cuts, the final state budget includes $11 billion in deferred payments to school districts, meaning that districts will have to front this cost until they can be paid back by the state during the 2021-22 school year. According to Ms. Shoemaker, some of this cost may be reduced if CUSD is able to receive federal funding.

“It looks like the budget is not quite as much of a dire situation as it appeared to be,” said Superintendent Jim Elsasser at the July 8 meeting. “It’s just a concern that to some extent, the state is indulging in a little of kicking the can down the road, and that we’ll have to wait and see how that works because with these deferments, we’re paying some money ahead and they’re going to be paying us back, and who knows what that’s going to mean. But that’s a worry about ‘21-22, so 2020-2021 has improved, so that is good news for the moment.”

Another challenge to funding for CUSD in future years stems from the Claremont Educational Foundation (CEF), which funds grants for art, music and technology programs throughout the district, not being able to conduct in-person fundraisers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although CEF fundraises each year for the following year, meaning that the money for the 2020-21 school year has already been appropriated in an amount of over $175,000, they are certain to face challenges in fundraising for upcoming years. 

Deborah Kekone, who took her position as CEF president on July 1, is working on reimagining what remote fundraisers will look like.

CEF has already postponed their annual spring fundraising event from May until August, and is working on translating it to an online platform. Additionally, Ms. Kekone said that CEF is planning on conducting more virtual trivia nights and a virtual cocktail hour. 

Ms. Kekone has been involved with CEF for two years, and will serve in her role for one year alongside Immediate Past President Karen McMillen.

She said that her goals for her presidency primarily include helping CEF to adapt to changing situations this year.

“I think the challenge was that my new role happened while everything was shifting tremendously,” said Ms. Kekone in a phone interview with the COURIER. “And so all of the things that we’re used to being able to do, the way we were used to being able to do them, are changing. So we’re really having to be creative, be innovative, think outside the box.”

To help address this year’s challenges, CEF also has three new board members: Vincent Arenas, Centia Batz and Rachel Leigh Forester-Ambrocio. 

Mr. Arenas, a Business Banking Specialist for US Bank in Claremont, serves on the board of directors for the Claremont Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Batz is a wedding florist by profession and has experience working as facilitator for the Sycamore Governance Council as well as the publicity chair for the Mt. Baldy area chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Ms. Forester-Ambrocio, like Ms. Batz, is a past facilitator for the Sycamore Governance Council, and also serves as the director of sustainability for the League of Women Voters and as the vice chair of the Community and Human Services Commission in Claremont.

Ms. Forester-Ambrocio, who has three children at Sycamore Elementary School, is hoping to use her new role to work with CEF’s grants programs as well as the SLICE of Summer program. 

“I think [SLICE] is such a great program,” Ms. Forester-Ambrocio said. “My kids have attended before. And so because I’ve got familiarity with that, I think it’s something I’d really like to be a part of. Right now it’s working in a pretty diminished form, and so there’s a little bit less to do. But going forward, when it either gets back to what it once was, or next year if they have to provide something different again, maybe seeing how that can be done.”

CUSD and CEF are both facing many uncertainties surrounding what K-12 education and education funding will look like in the next couple of years, but both the school board and the CEF leadership emphasized that they are willing and eager to meet this challenge.

“We need to be flexible during this time, we need to realize that the district is going to have a tremendous amount of needs over the next few years,” said Ms. Kekone. “Not just with everything shifting for COVID-19 this year, but the additional financial burden that the district is going to have for the following two school years as well. So we need people supporting us.”

Next up for CEF is a Virtual Drag Queen Bingo fundraiser at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 19. The Zoom event is for people 18 and over and is hosted by Big Queen Bingo host Tommi Rose.

The cost is $20 per ticket, which includes eight rounds of Bingo and a complimentary 12-ounce beer or root beer from Last Name Brewing. Burger kits from Electric City Butcher are also available for purchase. To register, visit www.supportcef.com.

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