Schools Budget Grows by 7%


With a 4 percent across-the-board employee pay raise scheduled, the Laguna Beach Unified School District board approved a $52.9 million budget for the coming fiscal year, which includes a 7 percent jump in revenue, according to a preliminary report.

Budget growth is due to a 6.6 percent increase in property tax revenue and a one-time payment from the state of $600 per student, said Dean West, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services. With 3,000 students, the one-time payment alone adds $1.8 million to the district budget, he said. Increasing property tax revenue will bring in $46 million next year. LBUSD is a Basic Aid district that relies on property tax revenue for funding rather than state reimbursement, which is based on average daily attendance.

The all-employee pay raise includes the district’s superintendent, Sherine Smith, whose annual salary will increase to $243,000 from $234,000, effective July 1, which was also approved 4-0 by the board Tuesday. Board member Carol Normandin has been absent due to a family illness.

All pay scales of public school employees were listed online for public disclosure a year ago. At $37 million, employee salaries – including the pay raise and benefits – is the district’s largest expenditure and takes 71 percent of the budget, said West. Teachers and counselors will receive a total of $21 million, according to the report.

The one-time debt pay-down is part of Gov. Brown’s goal to clean up past debts, said West. The debt, at least 10 years in arrears, is due to state-mandated programs that were never funded, said West. Reimbursement claims were filed by districts, including Laguna, up to 20 years ago, he said. The $600-per-pupil amount is going to every public school district in the state, whether the district filed claims or not.

The claims ranged from expenses due to complying with Brown Act requirements that allow the public to attend and participate in meetings to higher science standards that required a new classroom at the high school, said West. Since 2013-14, school districts have been able to seek block-grants to fund any state-mandated requirements, he said.

In addition to the district-wide pay raise, new teachers are being hired due to an increase in enrollment at Top of the World Elementary School and the high school, West said. There is also a 1.7 percent increase in retirement pensions. Several one-time facilities costs, such as the upcoming repairs and refinishing of the high school tennis courts, were also listed.

The 2015-16 budget lists $52.3 million in expenditures and $5.6 million in reserve. The district has a reserve of $2 million for maintenance and $3.4 million, or 6.6 percent, for assigned and unassigned expenditures, which is projected to increase to $4.4 million in the next two years.

Anticipated expenses of $812,844 include money for litigation, textbooks, special education needs, furniture, equipment and facilities improvements, said West. Unassigned expenses at $2.6 million have been set aside for emergencies and dips in finances, he said.

Filling the Voids

In later agenda items, the board approved spending up to $55,000 to evaluate a retaining wall near one of the high school tennis courts and another $52,940 to fill gaps caused by compacting soil under all of the courts.

The wall repair will be assessed by GMU Technical of Santa Margarita. The board was also asked to retain the company to test and inspect the ongoing repair of all the courts. The cost will be split 70/30 between the city and the district, respectively. Repairs started on June 1, according to the report.

Voids under the courts exist due to compacting soil, which is leaving gaps of up to six inches and causing cracks and uneven surfaces, according to a report by facilities director Jeff Dixon.

The spaces will be filled by injecting grout. The construction company, J.C. Baldwin of Carlsbad, is already repairing the wall on court 6.

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