Seeking Counsel on Fiscal Affairs, Schools Will Name Task Force

Superintendent Jeff Wilson speaks at a recent school board meeting as the panel’s president, Lisa Link, listens. Wilson is forming a task force to analyze fiscal options and strategies for the cash-strapped local school district.
Photo by Zane Hill / OUTLOOK
Superintendent Jeff Wilson speaks at a recent school board meeting as the panel’s president, Lisa Link, listens. Wilson is forming a task force to analyze fiscal options and strategies for the cash-strapped local school district.

The San Marino Unified School District is seeking applicants to a new task force that will advise the superintendent on fiscal resources and revenue enhancement options for the high-achieving but underfunded district.
The Fiscal Resources Strategic Team, or FiRST, will be composed of 10-20 members, Superintendent Jeff Wilson said. Appointees will include teachers, support staff, administrators and students, but most will be local residents with relevant expertise who apply. Those interested in applying have until noon on Wednesday, Sept. 18, to do so.
The district seeks applicants with know-how in public finance, asset management, government funding and fundraising, and plans to select members by Monday, Sept. 23. The first meeting in the task force’s nine-month term will be on Wednesday, Oct. 2, and meetings will continue to be scheduled for the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
“This is built on a model that’s been used before in San Marino,” Wilson said, citing the committee formed in 2008 amid fallout from the Great Recession. “That task force was sort of looking at both sides of the ledger and they were looking at an overall reduction of districtwide expenditures.”
In 2008, Wilson said, around 78% of the district’s funding came from Sacramento, with federal dollars amounting to around 3% and local funding filling in the remaining 19%. Now, Wilson said, around 35% of the district’s backing is local dollars from the myriad fundraisers in town.
“Just in that decade, the responsibility of funding our schools has risen by roughly 16% and that’s pretty significant. It really does demonstrate the complexities of the budget these days,” he explained, specifically highlighting pension costs and special education requirements as factors. “Those are the two big upticks that have really been hard on us on the expenditure side, and those are both things pretty outside of our control. The feds have not satisfied their commitment to funding education for students with exceptional needs.”
The district faces closing a $2.5 million gap this fiscal year and, like all other districts, must project the next three years of budgets ahead of time to show solvency. One factor that exacerbates funding shortfalls is that the vast majority of a district’s budget — 80-85%, Wilson said — is personnel.
Those interested in applying can find the forms on the district’s website at smusd.us. Wilson will designate a task force chair and secretary, and the group will serve only in an advisory role to Wilson and the school board.
“We’re looking for a cross section of appointees who will represent a wide variety of groups across town,” Wilson said. “One of my goals in this is to clearly get people on the same page with regard to local revenues and being pretty explicit with our community about our goals in terms of local funding. There are so many moving pieces to it. The beauty of local funding is that it’s more predictable, so when we get this right, I think we may have a leg up on those who depend more on state and federal revenues.”

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