Just a few days after a district-wide spending freeze was declared by administrators, the Santa Barbara School Board voted unanimously on Tuesday night to pursue a merger of its elementary and secondary districts in hopes of securing some much-needed extra dough. The discussion, which was billed by Superintendent Brian Sarvis as “one of the most important issues to our district in a long time,” came as the district, after slashing more than the $20 million from its budget over the last three years alone, faces roughly $6 million in additional cuts this coming spring. If successful, the merger would net the “unified” district some $6 million in additional annual funding from the state.
The unification — which, according to the district’s deputy superintendent and chief bean counter Eric Smith, would change nothing about the current day-to-day operations of the district save for a name change — must be approved by the state and, even then, a series of waivers must also be granted in order for it to take effect in a timely manner. According to Smith, a typical merger like this, known officially as a Thompson Bill Unification, though looked upon amicably by the state, requires, among other things, a vote of the community and the reelection of a new school board to govern the “new” unified district. However, since Santa Barbara School Districts are already a Joint-Resolution entity and essentially run as a unified district, Smith is optimistic that such requirements will be waived and the extra funding could be in place by July. Even so, says Smith, the aforementioned upcoming cuts would still have to be levied this spring to fulfill budget balancing requirements. They would most likely be restored once the cash was in place. “You never know until the state says ‘okay,’ but we are certainly hopeful [unification] happens,” summed up Smith, before adding, “otherwise we are going to have scorched earth around here.”