Cabrillo Unified School District will be in the black this year after a slew of one-time state and federal funding bumps boosted its budget.

While the governor has not yet finalized the state budget, the May revision dedicated billions in funding opportunities for public schools to help with student and teacher support programs and reopening schools during the pandemic. That’s a 9.2 percent jump in expected revenue to the district.

“In my many, many years in education I have never seen this jump,” Chief Business Officer Jesús Contreras said. “It is very good news.”

The state’s cost of living adjustment also skyrocketed this spring, and Contreras said his estimates are based on a conservative guess about tax revenue increases. It’s all good news for the district. That would give it an end balance of $6.8 million with $1.15 million in reserve this year and projected solvency through 2025.

To some board members, the district’s reserve, at around 12 to 15 percent each year as compared to the state-mandated 3 percent, seems too large. Board President Lizet Cortes asked district Superintendent Sean McPhetridge to come back with options on where to spend the excess reserve, including the possibility of additional raises for staff.

“I want to make sure in the future, we don’t keep doing the either-or,” Board Member Freya McCammant said. “We support our teachers and that supports our students. We support our students and that supports our teachers.”

But Contreras cautioned that at the current spending levels, his projections show the district set to go back to deficit spending by the 2023-24 school year. That’s because much of this year’s boost is rooted in one-time, unsustained, funding.

Another issue is that the state and district are indicating a decline in enrollment. That won’t affect funding for this coming school year because of a state policy, but in the long term Cabrillo might have to consider “right-sizing” its services to fit a smaller population.

Emerging from a budget crisis last year, McPhetridge said he wants to stay cautious to avoid falling back into the red. But ultimately, he said he would be ready to offer raises to employees in the future.

“We’re conservative,” McPhetridge said. “But at the end of the day, we’re going to come back and we’re going to give our employees more money.”

Sarah Wright is the deputy editor for the Review. She reports on unincorporated San Mateo County and local schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and has worked in policy and communications in Washington, D.C.

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