School districts adopt budgets for 2023-24 

The William S. Hart Union High School District's governing board gets ready to deliberate on the vacancy for Trustree Area No. 4 during a special meeting in June. Perry Smith/ The Signal
The William S. Hart Union High School District's governing board gets ready to deliberate on the vacancy for Trustree Area No. 4 during Thursday's special meeting. Perry Smith/ The Signal
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While the clamoring of kids in the classroom is at least about a month away for most districts, Santa Clarita Valley school leaders are already making their preparations for the upcoming academic year. 

The SCV’s five biggest districts — Castaic Union, Newhall, Saugus Union, Sulphur Springs Union and William S. Hart Union High school districts — have approved their respective budgets in recent weeks, providing a snapshot of their fiscal health. 

With the state announcing a grim budget picture for its next fiscal year with a $31.2 billion deficit projected, local schools unsurprisingly are feeling the pinch also. 

In addition to a state shortfall, the fiscal forecast is being impacted by other factors, including a significant reduction in one-time funding most received due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Another challenge noted in budgets: Enrollment projections actually portend declines for several but not all local student populations in some three- and five-year projections — despite a number of housing developments expected in coming years.  

Castaic Union School District 

The current Castaic district budget picture has the district expected to have $27.845 million in revenue versus $29.625 million in expenditures for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which started July 1, according to the budget approved June 27.  

“The district has faced the challenge of COVID-19, and as we come out of the pandemic, we are dealing with some unforeseen side effects. We are coming to an end of the COVID-19 one-time funding and have the challenge of returning to pre-pandemic spending,” according to a district staff report on the budget. “In addition, the employee pool has been reduced in California and we are dealing with increased contract spending as finding people to fill specialized positions continues to be a challenge.” 

The report notes optimistic projections for its enrollment forecast. Even the conservative figure for attendance, which is the basis for funding under California law, expects the district to gain students over the next three years after a slight dip in this fall’s number. 

The district counted 1,903 students last year; 1,842 are projected for the next school year; and by 2025-26, the district expects to have 1,959 enrolled. 

“Castaic Union School District has presented a budget to our governing board that is positive certification in the current year 2023-24 fiscal year, and the two out years (2024-25 and 2025-26) as required,” wrote Irene Boden, the district’s assistant superintendent of business and administrative services. “In addition, we will be able to maintain our required reserve of 5% in the current year and the two subsequent out years.” 

Newhall School District  

The Newhall School District approved a budget last month with $83.1 million in revenue projected for the next fiscal year versus $82.3 million in expenditures. 

The district’s budget report details the challenges that districts are facing with the decreases in local, state and federal funding, particularly since a large amount of one-time funding was reduced.  

In a review of its projected revenues, the district notes three main discrepancies between the current fiscal year and the previous one: The district is receiving about $3.6 million less from the federal government; almost $12.7 million less from the state; and nearly $662,000 less from local sources. 

The first two were identified as reductions in one-time funding. The local amount was related to local donations, which could increase as the year goes on, the report states. 

“We have a well-planned budget at the Newhall School District,” Ernesto Smith, governing board president for the district, wrote in a statement. “As public officials, we must be fiscally responsible and good stewards of the district’s finances. The public depends on us to keep the district’s finances healthy and maximize our available funds to ensure all students’ success.”  

Saugus Union School District 

The Saugus Union School District approved a plan that anticipates $135.3 million in revenue and $133.6 million in expenditures, according to its 2023-24 budget. 

SUSD governing board President Katherine Cooper commended her district’s sound financial management in a statement Tuesday on the district’s balanced budget. 

“As the lowest-funded district (per student) in the (Santa Clarita) Valley, I’m very proud of our business department’s ability and commitment to get the most out of every dollar,” Cooper said. “And I’m happy to see that the state is funding the (cost-of-living adjustment) and also not reducing the Arts, Music and Instructional Materials block grant and the Learning Recovery Emergency block grant by the amount originally expected.” 

Enrollment for the district has taken a slight dip since 2020-21, according to numbers reported in the budget. There were 9,621 total students that year, and then 9,008 in 2021-22. For the following two years, the figure stabilized at approximately 9,200. 

Sulphur Springs Union School District  

The Sulphur Springs Union School District approved a budget last month expected to contain $85.994 million in revenues and $89.47 million in expenditures for the next fiscal year. 

“The district filed a positive budget for the next three years. We are excited to continue to welcome new families to our district,” wrote Sulphur Springs Union School District Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi.  

She added that the enrollment projections for the district indicated schools’ populations should be increasing in the immediate future.  

“The district is seeing a slight increase in enrollment, especially in transitional kindergarten. We are looking forward to providing an exemplary education to all of our students in the 2023-24 school year.”  

William S. Hart Union High School District 

The SCV’s only junior high and high school district is projecting a budget for the 2023-34 fiscal year that anticipates $304.8 million in revenue versus $322.8 million in expenditures.  

“The district is doing a good job and watching over taxpayer funds,” said Joe Messina, a member of the district’s governing board. “It’s hard to do when we don’t know what the future holds for tax revenues. The adjustments we made will carry us well through this year and then the next. We have a great accounting team at the district.” 

Last year, the district addressed the uncertainty in projected revenues with a budget that accounted for a $25 million deficit — although the actuals in this year’s budget indicated the district ended up $15 million in the black, with $319,876,684 in expenditures, and $335,092,114 

Perhaps just as troubling as a challenge for the district, its enrollment is projected to decline over the next five years. 

For the 2022-23 fiscal year, the district counted 19,604 students, while next year, the district expects 18,965 students, which would represent a multimillion-dollar hit to the district’s projected revenue because of how school funding is calculated. 

At its current pace, the district’s budget report indicates the enrollment could be 16,818 students by 2027-28. 

“It is important in our budget to seek a balance between educational program expenditures and employee salary and benefit expenditures,” wrote board President Bob Jensen in a text message sent Wednesday. “Both of these types of expenditures require significant funds. Wise fiscal management in both of these areas is needed in order to have, and maintain, a very high achieving and highly successful school district. We want to provide the best education possible to all students and all families and how we handle our financial picture is crucial to allowing us to do that.” 

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