On January 21, I attended the SCROC appointed budget committee meeting, set up by the SCROC Board of Trustees focusing specifically on the long-term financial planning for the district. To be honest, I was not surprised that so few had showed up. It took place early in the morning, 8 am, but for me the members of the committee were discussing a serous set of issues: how would SCROC be funded for the future?
I was glad to show up, and someone else managed to attend slightly after the meeting started.
Dr. Laurie St. Gean, the newly-installed superintendent, welcomed me, as did other members of the budget committee. They also welcomed the fact that someone from the public submitted a yellow card to offer comments.
First, I shared that I had spoken with members of Torrance Unified School Board about the fate of SCROC, and that some of the members were unaware of how many people attended and benefitted from the site. Like a growing number of people whom I encounter and discuss this topic with, I am concerned about the fate of the facility. Following from a discussion I had prior with one of the committee members, I had shared hopes that SCROC would reach out to the newly created Wiseburn Unified School District as another member for the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA).
Mr. Brad Waller, the Committee President, was very kind, and Mr. Jim Garza of Inglewood indicated that he would be more than happy to speak with me after the meeting.
The one agenda item, aside from approving the minutes from the previous meeting, centered on "Continue discussion on funding options for SoCal ROC."
The following remarks come from the comments and discussion which followed.
The Governor's proposed budget offers $250 million in grants to career tech programs, matching dollar for dollar payments from the school districts.
The language from the Legislative Analyst's Office reads:
The budget provides $250 million for a competitive grant initiative that supports K-12 CTE programs that lead to industry-recognized credentials or postsecondary training. Under the Governor's plan, this appropriation is to be the first of three annual $250 million installments to support CTE infrastructure during the LCFF implementation. As a condition of receiving funds, grantees would be required t provide a dollar-for-dollar match, collect accountability data, and commit to providing ongoing support for CTE programs after the grant program expires, Applicants also would be expected to partner with local postsecondary institutions, businesses, and labor organizations. Local education agencies that currently invest in CTE programs and local education agencies that collaborate with each other are to receive funding priority. The administration indicates that it will present additional program details, including grant amounts, at a later date.
The language is vague, and the committee was not sure whether any grant application would require a three year plan, and thus a three-year committee from the JPA school districts.
|Dr. Mike Matthews|
Mike Matthews, superintendent of Manhattan Beach Unified, and Dr. Steven Keller of Redondo Beach, shared that their school districts would not likely be open to a three-year commitment. Barbara Luckey of PVUSD wanted to bring new members of her school board to visit SCROC. Ms Chai, the Fiscal Services Officer for Torrance Unified, informed the Committee that her district trustees had discussed the funding situation, but were not informed that a three-year commitment may be required in order to ensure funding for SCROC.
|Dr. Stephen Keller|
"Uncertainty" was a term frequently used in the course of the committee hearing. No surprise there, since school districts have to put together projected budgets, then respond when the state legislature prepares their own budget. City councils rely on revenues directed to the city, while school districts receive funding from the state.
The Governor offered a proposed budget, but it's up to the legislature to decide what exactly will be allocated to different programs and essential services in the state. SCROC has until the end of June before the facility must rely on its reserves while ending off-site services to other school districts. Mr. Garza from Inglewood Unified informed the Committee that his school district did not have the money to participate in the JPA. After the meeting, he explained that Dr. Donald Brann, Inglewood's state receiver, had reduced the structural debt significantly, but then the district needed to pay back the state's emergency loan. Furthermore, the district was still dealing with declining enrollment, which frustrates future spending plans.
The committee agreed for each member to communicate with the respective school districts with the possible funding proposals for SCROC: a grant application based on each district contributing 50% of their Career and Technical Education funding, matched dollar for dollar from the state. Each district would need to be informed that they might have to make a one to possibly three year commitment for funding SCROC.
The SCROC Board of Trustees may have to rewrite the JPA and prepare a different business model entirely.
I spoke with one Torrance School Board Member, Michael Wermers, and he flatly refused to consider budgeting for a three-year commitment to SCROC without seeing specific numbers. Now I understand why Drs. Keller and Matthews had acknowledged the reluctance of their respective school boards, too.
After the meeting, Mr. Waller showed me the funding information and the reasons behind some of the ongoing discussions which were pressing on the long-term liability of the facility. Afterwards, Superintendent Laurie St. Gean sat down with me and answered some of my questions about SCROC. I was able to tell her that former and current residents of Torrance talked about the education they received at SCROC, and hoped that the site would stay open.
I asked her for the following information:
1. A copy of the joint powers agreement for SCROC
2. The number of students enrolled at SCROC and through the school's programs.
3. How any teachers/staff work at SCROC
4. The salary schedule for the teachers and staff at the school
5. The salary for the two administrators and two managers -- including Dr. St. Gean
Overall, it was good to see leading members of the South Bay educational committee coming together to discuss long-term plans for the facility. I only hope that the state draws up specific plans for the CTE grants so that SCROC will have a specific grant application ready and can bring on board as many districts as possible to keep the site open and serving the South Bay public.