Education · Fresno

Fresno Unified stares down “egregious” absenteeism-driven budget crunch on horizon

Huge drops in daily attendance coupled with a potential massive economic recession predicted for the near future could create dire conditions for Fresno Unified School District, officials said Wednesday.

But the doom-and-gloom scenario is offset somewhat by the billions of extra dollars for education that Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed for the state’s 2022-23 budget.

Chief Financial Officer Santino Danisi provided an overview at Wednesday’s FUSD Board meeting of the governor’s proposed budget, which would include “one-time” extra funds for school construction, early childhood education, teacher training, and school bus replacements as well as ongoing extra spending on pupil funding and expanding the universal transitional kindergarten program.

But the presentation also included a sobering look at the steep drop-off in Fresno Unified attendance during the pandemic, a phenomenon that has hit districts hard across the nation, and rising rates for employee pension funds that the district is required by state law to contribute to.

a drop in the number of students means school staffing levels will also need to shrink, Trustee Valerie Davis said. And the district should waste no time in developing contingency plans, she said.

“What would the staffing ratio look like? And what staff, what employees are most impacted, when we have to flip the switch?” Davis said. “Those are some discussions we need to start having, not only with our employees groups, but here on this dais.”

Superintendent Bob Nelson said district staffers have been discussing how Fresno Unified might spread the one-time funds proposed for the state budget over a longer period of time to “soften any draconian cuts” that might come because of decreased average daily attendance.

But ultimately, staffing might need to be cut, he acknowledged.

“That blue line is egregious,” Nelson said in reference to a Fresno Unified chart showing the district’s actual daily attendance over the past five years.

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Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.