Despite Budget Woes School Board Approves New Position

By Teresa Rochester

Despite concerns of increased spending in an era of financial woes, the Board of Education approved the reinstatement of a position within the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District to the annual tune of $64,740, Tuesday night.

The board also approved extending school days for kindergarten students, which was part of contract ratified last month that gives district teachers a 6.5 percent raise.

The new position of system support analyst would develop, streamline and maintain the district's and school's web sites and oversee and improve the district's email and voice mail systems.

In a 4-0 vote (three members were absent) the board heeded district official's warnings that without the analyst the district would not be able to comply with a state mandate to convert its accounting system to a uniform statewide system, provide computer generated data analysis or comprehensive network support.

"It's absolutely necessary to do the work," Superintendent Neil Schmidt told board members. "This speaks to the priority and the needs of the district."

Board members agreed that the position is a critical one for the district, but they were frustrated the position was being proposed in the middle of the year and in light of an expected $3 million to $4 million budget shortfall.

"What's the urgency of this coming to us now?" Board Member Julia Brownley asked. "Obviously we can wait."

"I believe this is vital. I don't believe in making decisions without data," Board Member Dorothy Chapman said. "I don't like making these budget decisions without knowing where the money is coming from."

The money to pay for the system analyst would come from cutbacks in two "floater" custodian jobs according to Schmidt, who said he told staff he was committed to bringing this to the board "even during this awkward time."

The position was the victim of the district's previous budget shortfall. Originally approved last year, it was eliminated in June 1998 due to budget cuts.

District officials hope to have the position filled by January 2000 at a cost of $32,370 for the 1999/2000 school year.

"There's no question it's essential," Brownley said. "It's just really tough to be supporting this position during this time."

In a separate measure, the board extended the district's kindergarten hours to 240 minutes a day. The new hours are scheduled to go into effect Jan. 31, 2000. The schools are required to submit the new start and end times, which will be given to parents in the form of a chart.

The kindergarten hours were a sticking point in this summer's contract negotiations.