With roughly $6 million worth of budget cuts looming in the new fiscal year and current cash reserves dwindling faster than anticipated, the Santa Barbara School District announced an immediately effective spending freeze Friday afternoon. “Basically, whatever we can save this year while we still have some reserves will carry over into next year and help us weather the storm,” summed up the district’s deputy superintendent, Eric Smith, shortly after the announcement.
In the last three years, the state budget nightmare has terrorized the district’s General Fund to the tune of $20 million worth of cuts — a reality that has cut services to the bone and has administrators scrambling to find any way possible to soften the blow of the foretasted cuts still coming down the pipes in the next few months.
In fact, besides the stop order on any and all spending, the district is exploring the potential unification of its elementary and secondary districts, a complex but essentially benign maneuver that, if approved by the state, would generate $6 million dollars of ongoing funding at a time when it is needed most.
Smith explained that the merger — which would change little for the day-to-day operations of the districts save for a name change and the uptick in cash — is a strong possibility but “certainly not a guarantee.” He described the spending freeze as a prudent preparation for the worst case scenario should the unification attempt fail.
“You never know until the state says ‘okay,’ but we are certainly hopeful [unification] happens,” said Smith, before adding ominously, “otherwise we are going to have scorched earth around here.”
The school board is scheduled to discuss the unification at its next meeting on January 11.