PaliHi’s New Budget Reaches $32.4 Million

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

Palisades Charter High School’s new $32.4 million budget is almost $600,000 more than last school year’s, in part due to increases in both retirement benefits and transportation costs, according to Greg Wood, PaliHi’s chief business officer.

Increased costs for retirement and health benefits are a problem statewide that will be growing substantially each year.

For example, over the next three years, these benefits for PaliHi’s retired faculty, staff and administrators are estimated to rise about 58.7 percent from $2.2 million last school year for both the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS) and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) to almost $3.5 million in 2019-20, according to the new budget.

Palisades High will have a $32.4 million budget this coming year.
Palisades High will have a $32.4 million budget this coming year.

“We’re hoping that something comes in and changes the course of this, but we can’t expectthat,” Wood said. “We’re not going to assume anyone is going to rescue us, but it would be a great relief if some other al- ternative plan is put together.”

Los Angeles Unified School District has a much greater problem with these growing benefit costs, in large part because unlike PaliHi, which has a high and steady enrollment, the district anticipates reduced student populations and consequently reduced funding in coming years.

Early this year, the district anticipated a $663 million deficit for the 2017-18 school year and a $1.5 billion deficit the following year.

Pali’s balanced budget was approved in June without anticipating one-time funding increases, and last week, Wood learned the state would provide an additional $147 per student in one-time funding, which should contribute more than $400,000 in revenue to Pali.

“We painted as conservative a picture as we could for the 2017-18 budget,” Wood said. “Additional one-time funding will give us a chance to look at areas that weren’t funded or put the extra money into the bank reserves.”

For the upcoming school year, the vast majority of the budget goes to pay salaries and benefits. About $14.5 million has been budgeted for faculty and administrator salaries, while $4.4 million will pay for classified positions. In addition, benefits, including STRS and PERS, will add $7.25 million to school expenses.

The remaining spending will include more than $850,000 for books and supplies, $983,000 for capital expenses, including technology, furniture and building improvements, and almost $2.8 million for various services, including special education, mental health counseling and consulting.

In addition, operations and housekeeping is budgeted at $650,000, insurance costs over $143,000, and pupil transportation will cost more than $576,000.

The latter expense has gone through some changes for 2017-18 as more of the cost, which was in excess of $1 million before par- ent reimbursements last year, will be covered by bused students, Wood said. Last school year, the school charged $125 per month for each of the more than 850 students who used the 17 daily buses, although the true cost was $140 per month and stu- dents eligible for free and/or reduced lunch- es were provided scholarships.

However, in the coming school year, the amount charged to students will rise 48 percent to more than $1.4 million if enough students sign up to fill 17 buses, and the actual cost of bus service, which will be $185 per month per student, will be charged to parents, although scholarships will still be offered.

Only one bus company, Durham, bid to replace the previous bus company, Tumbleweed, which had opted out of continuing to serve the school’s transportation needs, Wood said. Durham’s charges for bus service ($474 per bus per day) were higher than Tumbleweed’s, which charged almost $355 per bus per day.

“We can’t absorb those increases; transportation [aside from special education transportation] is not something a school is obligated to provide,” Wood said. But he added that the school’s economically diverse student body is important to Pali.“We do want to continue to support the dynamics of the school’s population, which is something that makes us unique. We want to continue to perpetuate that.”

This summer, PaliHi is investigating Metro bus passes, ride-sharing, carpools and other alternative transportation methods to perhaps reduce the cost of bus service.

“We may find a benefactor who sees transportation as a donation opportunity,” Wood said. But “we didn’t want to set false expectations for our bus riders. Per-bus cost is going to increase.”

One budget item that the school chose to increase stemmed from Pali’s continued effort to improve math skills and scores, Wood said. The budget includes an increase from $23,500 to just over $98,000 for math paraprofessionals to aid teachers with in-classroom instruction.

The bulk of Pali’s revenue comes from a per-student allotment of state funds that is estimated to be almost $25.4 million, and the state also provides more than $3.2 million in other funding. In addition, the federal government contributes more than $1.29 million, and more than $1 million each year is garnered through the rental of Pali’s pool and other facilities. Other revenue streams come from diverse areas, including fundrais- ing (estimated at $300,000) and food service sales (estimated to be almost $195,000).

The budget forecasts expenses and revenue for future years, and the estimates include a 2.97 percent (or $963,000) increase to an almost $33.4 million budget for the 2018-19 school year and another 2.61 percent (or $872,286) increase to an almost $34.3 million budget in 2019-20.

“We’re communicating these future budget amounts as outlined by forecasts from the state controllers’ office and other educational financing offices,” Wood said. “It will be updated every year as the state’s budget becomes better or worse off. This is the latest forecast.”

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