Cluster group discusses school Foundation funding limits

A recent San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) decision could affect where the money from La Jolla’s school foundations goes.

At the Feb. 16 La Jolla Cluster Association meeting at Muirlands Middle School, the topic of the 2017-2018 Budget and how foundation contributions can (and cannot) be allocated, was discussed. The La Jolla Cluster Association includes representation from La Jolla’s five public schools: La Jolla High, Muirlands Middle and La Jolla, Bird Rock and Torrey Pines elementaries.

In the course of annual budget planning, teachers receive a site-based budget in early February, and for most, this year’s budget had slightly less cash, and it noted that foundation funds could be used for “certified” personnel such as teachers, but not “classified” personnel such as nurses and librarians. Each of La Jolla’s Cluster schools have privately-funded foundations that support programing.

La Jolla Elementary School Principal Donna Tripi opened, “Our discretionary money was cut 10 percent, so for us, it didn’t make much of a difference. The only other thing (SDUSD) said is they were centralizing some of the positions we have in staffing allocations. We can hire professional experts and teachers, but no classified staff … When we got a one-day allocation for a nurse and two days for a health tech, the foundation paid for additional days. The foundation was paying the rest of it, so we could fully staff our health office, but now we can’t do that.”

Muirlands Middle School principal Harlan Klein added, “We didn’t find out about not being able to use foundation money for classified personnel until the day before the budget was released … but we were able to rearrange things and make it work.” He explained the extensive process he had to go through to keep things as they were without violating the SDUSD order. “It seems unnecessary to go through a process. This isn’t a District phenomenon, it’s a Cluster phenomenon and we’re not talking about that many positions.”

One parent attendee noted La Jolla and only one other unidentified Cluster has multiple foundations that supplement staff and programs. As such, Cluster president John May said in the past, the number of positions funded by foundations was around six, and four were in La Jolla.

On hand to explain the situation, Superintendent Mitzi Merino (who works in an area of the District unrelated to budgeting) said SDUSD is trying to avoid cases in which the foundation hires someone, and in the event they can’t or won’t fund the position going forward, then SDUSD must continue to pay their salary. “If we have an employee that is not otherwise funded or would be funded that we can’t afford, we have to find a place for them to avoid laying them off. So this year, we are going to staff for allocation, so we don’t end up on the hook for salaries when we are in such a big budget crisis.”

SDUSD information officer Andrew Sharp later explained to La Jolla Light, “Our projected deficit is $124 million. We have a large range of interim steps we have to take to close that deficit. … The District brought forward the first set of budget solutions for next year last week and will hear and vote on these solutions, Feb. 28.”

In other Cluster news:

Start date in question: May, who also sits on SDUSD calendar committee, said a discussion was underway to decide when the 2018 school year would start. Another meeting is scheduled for March 6 at which time another alternative might come up, with a final decision due in May.

“We settled-in on two scenarios: leaving the date as it is, the week before Labor Day, or moving back to the day after Labor Day. But there is a twist to starting the week before,” he said. “This year and next, we will start on a Tuesday. The reason we do that is because if we start on a Tuesday, we end on a Tuesday. This is due to one of the rules for start/stop dates: school cannot end on a Monday – no one would come and the Friday before would effectively be the last day of school.

“Each school year must be 180 days with holidays and breaks, so we can start on a Monday and get another day off to make the last day a Tuesday. Many have advocated for making Columbus Day a holiday.”

May said a digital survey would be circulated asking parent and student preferences, but would clearly state the decision could be vetoed by SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten. “No matter what we do, the person who ultimately makes the decision is Cindy, if she decides she wants to move it (in opposition to what we decide), it is within her authority to do so,” he explained.

— La Jolla Cluster next meets 4:15 p.m. Thursday, March 16 at Muirlands Middle School, 1056 Nautilus St.