GUSD Faces a New Budget Challenge


Students in Glendale Unified School District were looking forward to their spring break in March. Little did they know that their week off would turn into the rest of the school year. They then started their virtual learning experience, which for some worked well and for others has been a time of struggle. Teachers went from the classroom to their homes where many were both parent helping their child and a teacher with a virtual classroom full of kids. Parents, some who were working from home, some who had lost their jobs, and others who still had to work suddenly became teachers and computer technicians.

This was a learning curve for everyone including the GUSD board of education and district administrators; however, if they thought the virtual issue was a challenge it is nothing compared to the mammoth budget mountain the district must now climb.

“[The deficit] ranges but, based on the black and white of the May [California budget] revise, I believe the 2021-22 school year will see a $50 million [deficit],” said Stephen Dickinson, chief business and financial officer with GUSD.

Yes, gone are the days in the early 2000s of the $8 million challenge. And Dickinson’s estimate leans toward the best case scenario. The worst case could see a deficit of over $70 million.

Gov. Gavin Newsom released his May revised budget, which reflects changes to the governor’s proposed budget based upon the latest economic forecasts and is a $203 billion budget that includes cuts in just about every program including public schools. Public education would see a cut of 10%, or about $6 billion.

The challenge in figuring out exactly what will be the future school budgets is the unknown that has been brought by COVID-19. Normally, school districts are required to prepare, and balance, a budget spanning three years. This will not be possible since district administrators are not certain when in-person classroom school will begin again, what that might look like and what will happen if and when the second wave of the pandemic strikes.

“I was around in 2008-09 during the recession,” Dickinson said. “[The deficit] is sizing up to be twice as large.”

If there is a silver, or maybe less gray, lining it is that all school districts in California, and many throughout the country, are dealing with the same financial issues. Dickinson does talk to administrators in other districts.

“I do talk to lots of other districts. I am really concerned for other districts that may not have an experienced [school] board and team that has gone through this [type of thing] before,” he said. “I would really like to thank our board.”

Dickinson added he felt the advantage GUSD has is the board and district team’s experience and how “educated” they are on this issue.

Although the experiences of COVID-19 are unprecedented, with many businesses and schools closing, districts have previously faced financial challenges that, at the time, seemed nearly impossible to overcome. GUSD board and administrators have faced, over the decades, several of these troubling issues and, said Dickinson, is not panicking like some other districts. He noted that some are letting personnel go and making decisions to cut the budget quickly.

In actuality, there is not much that can be done. Dickinson told the board of education in a recent meeting that the district will have to go to a negative budget, that is operating at a loss. If that is the case, it will have to “crawl out of” the negative balance over the next few years.

There are potential risks that may be included in the future budget like increased COVID-19 costs that have yet to be determined, as well as mitigating factors like federal support via the $3 trillion HEROES [Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions] Act passed by Congress that would give states funding help with issues created by the pandemic; however, it currently does not look like it will be passed by the Senate.

The bottom line at this point for GUSD is the deficit it is facing will more than likely increase.

“As of today [Tuesday] I still don’t know how our district is going to operate in the fall,” Dickinson said. “We are getting closer and closer to it being more clear.”