By Collin Breaux | Email: | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) officials are looking at a possible $35.5 million financial cut to the 2020-21 fiscal year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to discussions at a Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, May 20.

CUSD officials are considering how Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposals could affect CUSD. Newsom has discussed possible budget cuts due to impacts from the pandemic and called for federal aid to assist the state.

“We still have plenty of cash in the current year,” said Philippa Townsend, Assistant Superintendent, Fiscal Services, at the Board of Trustees meeting. “We’ll just have to keep an eye on what happens in the next fiscal year.”

However, cuts should be expected for the next two fiscal years and could increase, Townsend said.

Unknown factors include the likelihood of additional budget revisions once CUSD knows final tax receipts in July, whether additional federal stimulus money will arrive, what school will look like in the fall, the impact of student attendance, modifications to education and how long an economic recovery could take.

“We’ll also need to modify our school sites, our buses,” Townsend said. “Just everything we do will need some kind of modification to deal with this pandemic, and that will cost money.”

Trustee Martha McNicholas called the information depressing. Trustee Amy Hanacek said the situation is a difficult subject and praised CUSD staff for how they presented the information and planned to handle the challenges.

In a separate presentation during the meeting, Kevin Gordon of Capitol Advisers Group, which provides CUSD with updates and guidance on state legislation, said recent proposed funding from Newsom could not adequately facilitate education and reopening of schools.  

State legislators have articulated concerns from educators, Gordon said. Educational advocates will ask for flexibility on several aspects, including not being penalized for failing to meet student attendance benchmarks, given concerned parents might not send kids to school or a school possibly being shut down if a student contracts the virus.

Board President Jim Reardon asked about the level of consensus that everything will be sorted out among state officials by June 15.

“There’s a high level of confidence they will get that done,” Gordon said. “Part of it is they normally do a drill between May 15 and June 15 that involves a number of different hearings.”

The budget adopted by June 15 may not include cuts as severe as the one currently presented, Gordon said.

Other people involved in education have spoken of expected impacts to education under Newsom’s proposed budget. The Education Coalition, composed of nine statewide K-12 education associations that advocate for California students, issued a statement saying schools and colleges cannot physically reopen safely with the funding level proposed in the May revision.

“Preparing each classroom, library, gym, lunchroom, and school bus for the safe return of students, teachers, and staff will require significant resources and planning. This will not be feasible, even after public health officials provide guidance and clearance, given the additional staff needed and associated increased costs,” the statement said. “Students, teachers, and staff will need the support of counselors and nurses at each site to care for those who fall ill during the school day and those overwhelmed with the emotional aftermath. We understand the severity of the drastic decrease in revenues, but that cannot interfere with prioritizing equity by providing resources for all students.”

Plans for what CUSD education could look like in the fall are expected to be discussed at a June 17 meeting.

The May 20 meeting was the last one for Student Advisor Genavieve Koenigshofer.

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