School board adopts 2020-2021 district budget while discussing ways to implement diverse curriculum

Story by Georgia Parsons
Staff Writer

Photo by Oscar Walsh
Staff Photographer

The South Pasadena School Board officially approved and adopted the 2020-2021 district budget at its meeting on Tuesday, June 23. The newly adopted budget eliminates several district staff jobs in addition to reducing funds in several different departments.

Budget cuts in faculty, staff, and administration departments are expected, as well as the removal of several district roles, including the elementary school assistant principal positions and jobs in the food and nutrition and extended day programs. The district has emphasized that it is prioritizing funding for student services and programs over other operational costs. Teacher salaries remain untouched as they have to be negotiated between the district and union.

California’s education funding is primarily based on income taxes, meaning that the severe economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic resulted in unprecedented losses for schools. SPUSD’s current budget is based on Governor Gavin Newsom’s May revision that would cut 10 percent, or $4.4 million, of the district’s funding. 

However, as income tax filings were delayed until July, the state may end up slashing more school funding in the coming weeks. In the worst case scenario, the Cost of Living Allowance would dip into the negatives, thereby reducing SPUSD per-pupil funding by 30 percent or $2,700. Superintendent Geoff Yantz explained that the district will have more clarity of its financial situation once the Trailer Bills that accompany the annual state budget come out in July. 

Although the school board’s major action was approving the budget, the majority of the meeting was dedicated to discussing what actions to take to support the resolution adopted in commitment of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We need to go further than [the resolution] and really talk about [a program that] enables teachers to talk about systemic racism, white privilege, and white supremacy,” board member Dr. Suzie Abajian said. “[We] also [need] to be able to have [anti-bias] training not only for the high school faculty, but also the elementary and middle school faculty.” 

Abajian was referring to the grant-funded Anti Defamation League training that 50 high school students participated in last fall. SPHS also implemented the English 9: Exploring Cultural Diversity and Identity course two years ago as an optional alternative to the traditional English class, where students can engage in discussions about race, gender, and sexuality.

“We’ve been working hard to collaboratively plan this course over the past two years, and have seen empowering and encouraging shifts in student engagement overall,” English teacher Rama Kadri said. “One of the most powerful aspects of this course is that it allows students to examine various cultural perspectives and social issues from the point of view of people of color.” 

The board also brainstormed plans to create a task force of parents and students to explore ways to implement a more diverse curriculum to encourage conversations around race.

Next month, school board members will hold a series of special meetings to solidify a schedule for the upcoming school year. SPUSD emailed out a survey regarding potential reopening hybrid models to all parents and high school students to fill out by Monday, June 29.

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