CUSD remains flexible managing budget during pandemic

by Mick Rhodes |

Claremont Unified School District’s budgets have for many years been reliable: $80 million, give or take a couple million dollars. Some years it runs a deficit, others a surplus. It’s been a steady gig, and its some 750 employees have taken solace from that consistency.


Last March though, all that tranquility was turned on its head when the COVID pandemic shut down campuses. Literally overnight, teachers and students scrambled to convert to online instruction. The immediate was the priority, because nobody saw this coming and everyone was learning on the fly. Some kids flourished under the new normal, others floundered.


And after seeing every senior year rite-of-passage event cancelled one by one, Claremont High School held a well-intentioned but ultimately less than memorable drive through graduation ceremony at the end of July.


But since that unprecedented year concluded, the district has been able to get back on balance with a semblance of normality returning.


CUSD’s 2020-2021 budget includes savings due to layoffs and attrition, but also a host of new pandemic-related expenditures such as CORE and CHAMP teachers, PPE, iPads and connectivity expenses.


Federal and state assistance helped to bolster the district’s financial position for this fiscal year. CUSD received about $3.4 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES”) funding and roughly $535,000 in state Covid relief. All of that money must go to coronavirus related expenditures such as online instruction, technology and personal protective equipment, among other things.


Complicating matters, the district must spend all the federal CARES money prior to the end of the calendar year. This has created a budgetary quagmire in that the school year, and the associated expenses, continue through June.


“We’re going to have huge general fund impacts after January 1,” said CUSD Assistant Superintendent Lisa Shoemaker. “We can’t lay off staff midyear. The way that they did it was typical, they didn’t talk to the people in the trenches. Cutting off funding after December 30 is super inconvenient.”


The district is also not allowed to pre-pay expenses such as COVID-related CORE and CHAMP teacher salaries. It has been able to utilize a chunk of that money for the purchase of iPads and connectivity technology.


Next year’s budget will likely take a significant hit barring another round of federal and state Covid funding. Estimates are generally forecasting a roughly 25 percent budget shortfall for California due to the delayed economic impacts of the pandemic. It would follow that the state’s education funding would be reduced by that amount as well.


“At this point our three year projection is there will probably be pretty significant deficit spending,” Ms. Shoemaker said. “The revenue from the state is future years is going to be reduced significantly.”


She couldn’t say whether this year’s budget would be exceeded or met.

“This year the federal and state money has allowed us to kick the can down the road for a year,” Ms. Shoemaker said. “In [2021-2022], if they implement that cut we’ll likely see deficits unless another stimulus package comes.”


Weathering the COVID pandemic has been a crash course in a new variety of crisis management for the district. From the superintendent down, everyone’s job has been affected. Most, if not all of the approximately 750 district employees’ workday looks entirely different from the pre-COVID model.

But the troops are, according to Ms. Shoemaker, rallying.


“I just think that we are really lucky that our organization and our employees for the most part get it,” Ms. Shoemaker said. “They know that if we kind of hunker down together that we’ll manage through it. I think as a district we’re going a pretty good job of hunkering down together.”


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