LEUSD business official gives review of district finances

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A Lake Elsinore Unified School District finance official at the district governing board’s meeting Thursday, Sept. 10, gave a review of the district’s financial status at the end of the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Arleen Sanchez, the district’s chief business official, reminded everyone that the year had been a rocky one, given the abrupt halt to in-person learning that came as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in the middle of spring 2020.

“We started the year with great momentum. There was a ribbon cutting for Alberhill. We began building this wonderful elementary school. We continued with a forward motion in purchasing flexible furniture and adding amazing technology to our classrooms to bring our classrooms up to a 21st century learning environment,” Sanchez said. “And then, midyear we were hit with (COVID-19).”

For now, the district’s budget has not been particularly negatively impacted by the pandemic, she said – revenue actually came in higher than expected, combined with lowered expenditures due to the closure of campuses during the spring.

“Revenue came in about 4 million more than we had budgeted, and our expenditures due to the closures of COVID-19 were approximately 4 million less than we had anticipated,” Sanchez said.

The district said total revenue was about $259 million and total expenditures were around $251 million for 2019-2020.

LEUSD also retains a reserve fund of about $10 million for economic uncertainty, Sanchez said.

However, about 70% of the district’s funds come from the state through the Local Control Funding Formula. The state gives each district the same level of base funding per student, depending on grade level, and it can grant more depending on levels of high-need populations like low-income students, students in foster care and English learners.

That formula mostly leaves school budgets at the mercy of the state budget, and there is much uncertainty surrounding it.

“The state budget in June was adopted based on an assumption that we would be receiving money from the federal government, that we would be receiving another stimulus,” Sanchez said.

However, no second stimulus bill has yet made it through Congress – the $3 trillion HEROES Act that was passed with mostly Democratic support in the House of Representatives never made it to a vote in the Senate and a $1 trillion Republican proposal for more virus aid failed to pass in the Senate, Sept. 10.

Sanchez said LEUSD has already received some budget deferrals from the state – an accounting tactic by which some funds are moved into the next fiscal year – and it’s unclear if there could be more.

“So there’s a question, will we receive additional deferrals even more significant than the ones we have right now? That is all dependent on the federal stimulus money,” Sanchez said. “Will there be major cuts? Dependent again on what the state revenues are. Will there be a decline in state revenues? At this point the department of finance actually issued a report on revenues for August and they were actually not as bad as the governor had projected, but that does not mean there’s a pretty picture ahead for revenues, there still was a major decline in revenues for the state.”

As of now, LEUSD’s 2021-2022 budget calls for about $246 million of revenue and $250 million of expenditures.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.