Opinion: NUSD’s wasted funds hurt students and teachers

Aditya Katewa

Six million dollars for personal Chromebooks? Check. An additional $3.7 million for “flexible furniture” in classrooms? Check. Enough money to replace outdated textbooks from the early 2000’s? I’m sorry, the district has other priorities.
WLC Architects, an architectural firm hired by the school district, identified a need of over $500 million to repair facilities. In other words, the Novato Unified School District needs half a billion dollars to make our facilities adequate, let alone great. The district was able to avert a crisis through the passage of Measure G, which authorized $222 million to “make repairs and updates to keep Novato schools among the best.”
Some of the projects financed by Measure G will no doubt help our schools, especially the renovation of San Marin High School and Novato High School’s performing arts centers and the creation of new STEM facilities. Looking at the facilities master plan drafted by the district and WLC Architects, though, there are some glaring mistakes. The fact that the district is still somehow spending an additional $19 million that won’t be covered by the funds is extremely concerning, especially because that number may double over the next year or so.

More than anything, it raises questions. If the district needs to cut that extra spending, which projects are going to be cut? The implications would be worse if they continue and spend that extra $19 million or more. Why couldn’t they spend that money on getting better books? If they are so concerned with keeping our quality of education high, why
can’t they pay our teachers competitive salaries? Because of their financial indiscretions, the students have to suffer in one way or another. It could be on a small level, such as reading outdated textbooks, or on a large scale, such as not having a teacher, let alone a qualified one, for weeks.

What’s worse is that this wouldn’t be the first of the district’s many spending issues. In the last year alone, the NUSD ran a deficit of $5 million, meaning that they spent $5 million more than they made. At that rate, there would be no money left in the general
fund by the end of 2020.

At first, that’s something that not many students understand the scope of, but it would be detrimental. Without sufficient funds, we can say goodbye to the money going towards all of our school supplies, renovations of the facilities and most importantly, our teachers’ salaries. In essence, the money from the general fund is what keeps our district running. However, when the district needs to save money, what do they do? They cut from the funds directed towards staff members and their salaries.

Last year, the district’s Budget Advisory Committee decided to cut $500,000 from the staff expenditures, which made up the $1.5 million “saved” along with another $770,000 cut from the District Office. That didn’t make a dent in the deficit. However, it elevated tensions and concerns from the Novato Federation of Teachers, a union representing teachers and other staff members. In a press release, the NFT found that at least $2.4 million was put into the administrative budget that could have, and should have, been cut.

Even now, despite its best intentions, the district board isn’t able to get it right. And for everyone’s sake, they should get their act together as soon as possible. Otherwise, who knows how deep of a hole the district will dig and what they will cut to fill it?
Is it going to be the psychologists and mental health counselors who play such a vital role to stressed students, or will it be another blow to an already ailing ELD program that is failing its students and almost violating the law? Will future cuts target the funding for staff members as they did before, and make our school all the more unappealing for new teachers to try and find a job at? Regardless of where it comes from and how much the administration says that they try to keep the impacts away from students’ education, cuts always have some impact on our learning. It’s up to the district to figure out how to prevent us from being stuck in that impossible situation before it’s too late.