Manhattan Beach district meeting audio confirms long suspected budget manipulation

Teachers, are you paying attention?

Despite the passing of Proposition 30 in 2012, the School Board voted to “pink slip” teachers at its March 7, 2013 meeting saying it was necessary in order to balance the budget for 2013-14.  They even claimed less state funding for the 2013-14 school year.  We now know that total funding increased to $59 million in 2013-14, up from $55.3 million in 2012-2013, according to figures filed with LACOE, and that most of the increase is attributable to additional funds from the state.

While nearly two dozen teachers were losing their jobs inside the building for political instead of economic reasons, negotiations chairman Adam Geczi attempted to explain to the public in an interview with reporter Serene Branson that the District was manipulating its budget and the layoffs were not necessary.  He pointed to the Books and Supplies category as a particular area of interest, suggesting that the District was not being truthful about its allocation of funds, effectively hiding money by inflating that category.  Blindly commenting on the iPad program, Dr. Michael Matthews inadvertently confirmed this with the reporter.  Press play below for audio bite from the newscast.  Soon after, the district “found” $800,000 in Books and Supplies.  While the District did not spend the money on books, per Matthews, it may have spent the remaining portions on iPads and related costs. The District has not shared invoices related to these expenses and has to answer to an MBUTA initiated Unfair Labor Practice Charge issued by PERB at an upcoming May 13-15 hearing.

A year later, on March 19, 2014, finance chief, Dr. Rick Bagley unexpectedly exposed the way money is hidden in various line items throughout the budget, including Books and Supplies, during his presentation of the second interim budget report.  While discussing funding for professional development, Bagley said ”we put the Common Core dollars into expenditures; we basically parked them as place holders in different places on our… on our expenditure warrants” which they later ”needed to internally adjust by moving some of what [they] have parked under Books and Supplies over to certificated salaries”.  Press play below for the audio bite.

The District continues to hide money in Books and Supplies, a larger amount than before.  This category was $1.5 million in 2010-11, became a $3.3 million projection to 2013-14 (in 2012) and has ballooned to $3.8 million with about $1.4 million “specified by the donor” for Books and Supplies from Fund 6.  Assuming that ASB and booster monies from MBAF (MBX) are not specified for the purchase of books and supplies directly related to instruction, PTA money once included in Fund 1 is now pulled out and presented as another definitionally restricted item in Fund 6 (normally reported under Fund 1).  While this may have been caused by a reporting requirement update (MBUTA has found no evidence of this), the adjustment should have left a gaping hole in Fund 1.  Instead of the $1.4 million hole, there appeared a $2.4 million mound of state and federal funds.

All of this leaves open three options.  MBUSD is overspending on books and supplies, which Matthews publicly denied;  MBUSD increased spending on unknown items such as iPads and related costs, which Matthews also denied publicly;  finally– figures in the budget are being manipulated to distort the District’s true state of financial health which keeps teachers fearful for their jobs, undermines the union’s ability to garner community support for a salary adjustment which maintains our healthcare benefits, and misleads the now fearful community into donating to various supplemental MBUSD fund sources to “save” the allegedly financially fragile district.  This strategy increases reserves and provides the ability to boost discretionary spending. That is the priority of MBUSD and this Board.

In the last decade, teacher salaries have funded construction cost overruns, special education encroachments, iPads and related technology, and now they are asked to pickup increases in healthcare and subsidize Common Core training with the differential between their professional daily rate and $38 per hour. Teachers are also going to be required to use their already scarce prep time to prepare substitute lesson plans and attend bits and pieces of training on Common Core instruction, while real dollars are spent on overpriced consultants.

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