In what has been one of the most challenging years for our country, the teachers, staff and administrators of Pasadena Unified School District demonstrated their unflagging commitment to our students and their families.
As the COVID-19 pandemic diminishes, we are planning and budgeting for the 2021-22 school year with the expectation that PUSD will fully reopen our schools for in-person learning. As we move forward with our budgeting for the future, our goals are twofold: to develop our budget strategically to meet the needs of our students and to make the budget development process transparent and accessible to our constituents.
To make PUSD more competitive with other districts when it comes to salaries and benefits, we are committed to improving employee compensation so that we can retain and recruit the remarkable and innovative educators and employees that make such a difference in our students’ lives. We know that accomplishing this will take some strategic prioritizing – and hard choices in the near future.
Like many districts around us, PUSD cannot increase salaries in the 2020-21 school year. However, with the state proposing to provide the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for schools in 2021-22, PUSD has offered our labor partners a one-time bonus for employees in the current year, which can then be placed on the salary schedule as an ongoing raise once the state COLA is funded in the 2021-22 school year that begins on July 1, 2021.
Every year, PUSD creates a budget based on how much money we expect the district to receive in state and federal funding. We track revenue and expenses to ensure the district maintains a balanced budget. Nearly 85% of PUSD’s budget is invested in teachers, administrators and classified staff who work hard to provide excellent educational opportunities for our students. Our largest cost increases every year come from built-in salary increases (which occur with added years of service and completion of increased education and professional development), mandatory rising district contributions to state pensions, and rising health care costs for employees. PUSD maintains a general fund reserve, much like a savings account, in case we need to dip into it to cover unexpected costs in textbooks, materials and facilities. The state requires school districts to maintain a minimum amount in the reserve fund.
To keep up with inflation and these increasing costs, PUSD needs a revenue increase of at least 5% every year if our enrollment remains stable. In most years, the state of California therefore provides an increase in ongoing revenue called the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). This leads to improved compensation for our hardworking employees (although with enrollment declines we would need additional funds or budget reductions to cover the loss of revenue associated with losing students). However, last June, because of the pandemic’s effect on the economy and tax revenues, the state of California did not provide a COLA to school districts for the 2020-21 school year. The COLA was zeroed out for 2020-21.
PUSD has received state and federal COVID-19 relief funds to help mitigate the substantial costs of transitioning to remote learning and making classrooms safe for students and staff to return to campus. These one-time funds are restricted, which means that they must be spent on extending learning time, mental health services and supports, and facilities upgrades such as hospital-grade air purifiers and air conditioner filter upgrades as well as inspection and repair of all air conditioning units. Funds must be spent by Sept. 30, 2024, at the latest. As one-time funds, these dollars cannot be used for salary increases since salary raises are ongoing and must have an ongoing source of funds.
We are moving forward with a strategic budgeting approach that commits and allocates our resources to meet our district’s goals, examines the results of programs and initiatives we have invested in, and makes adjustments to optimize our students’ educational experiences.
During the pandemic, PUSD teachers, administrators and classified employees never stopped working to make our schools better and safer for our students. They had to master new technologies and adjust to ever-changing conditions. We are profoundly grateful for their hard work for the students and families of our district.
Scott Phelps is the PUSD Board of Education president and Brian McDonald is PUSD superintendent.