School Board Approves Budget, Reviews Naming Gift, Receives CBOC Feedback

On June 27, the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) board adopted the 2023-2024 budget for the upcoming academic year.

The board approved the budget during its biweekly meeting following a brief presentation by Assistant Superintendent Raphael Guzman. The budget for the 2023-2024 school year is approximately $17.4 million. The projected expenses for 2023-2024 amount to approximately $96.5 million, while the projected revenue for the year comes to approximately $92.4 million, creating a projected deficit of about $4.1 million.

Guzman’s announcement about the projected deficit generated a range of reactions among board members.

“We might have to tighten our shoestrings a little bit,” Board Member Rachelle Marcus said. “We’ve always had projected deficits, we’ve never had deficits, so hopefully we will continue on that path,” Board President Noah Margo said.

Projected budgets for the 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 academic years are approximately $15.4 million and $14.1 million, according to a BHUSD document.

News of the projected deficit was overshadowed by the district’s more effective budgeting methodology. The district is moving toward a zero-based budgeting approach. Although a granular, more time-consuming process than traditional budgeting, the zero-based practice aims to identity and justify expenditures for each period and can be effective in reducing expenses.

Ultimately, as School Board Member and Clerk Mary Wells noted, “We’ll have better spending with our district dollars.”

Guzman characterized the process as having school principals understand why they need the money they’ve requested as opposed to providing them a pot of funds and telling them to spend it.

“It’s shifted, and it’s a culture we’re trying to implement,” the assistant superintendent said.

Addressing the board and Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy, Guzman explained that there was approximately $750,000 less revenue than projected for 2022-2023 because of a reduction in one-time grants announced by the California governor. While most of the funding for the school district comes from the collection of local property taxes, the school district also relies on state dollars.

The board also unanimously approved the Local Control Accountability Plan for 2023-2024. The three-year plan describes goals, actions, services and expenditures to support positive student outcomes addressing state and local priorities.

Additionally, the meeting included discussion about a potential $750,000 naming gift to the Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) baseball field. Under the BHHS Baseball Field Naming and Charitable Pledge Agreement, a donor’s gift of $250,000 gives the individual the naming rights to the baseball field, with the donor having the right to pay an additional $500,000 to have the naming rights in perpetuity.

David Corwin, president of the Beverly Hills Athletic Alumni Association (BHAAA) and a graduate of the BHHS class of 1987, said Irving Zakheim, a successful businessman based in Spokane, Washington who was raised in Beverly Hills, had stepped up and pledged to donate the naming gift for the yet-to-be-built baseball field. Corwin expressed frustration over the board’s delay in approving the charitable pledge agreement between the donor, BHAAA, the Beverly Hills Education Foundation (BHEF) and the school district.

The school community, Corwin said, was at risk of losing the donor because of how long the process has taken. In response, Board President Noah Margo said the board had only received the language of the agreement recently while Wells, school board member and clerk, acknowledged it’s taken longer than need be, saying the board did not wish to “micromanage the process.”

BHAAA and BHEF are nonprofits that provide financial support to assist the district’s athletic departments. BHAAA, among other things, supplements the high school athletic department budget by assisting with the purchase of uniforms, equipment and capital improvements of the facilities. Since 2006, BHAAA has donated more than $800,000 to support the high school’s athletic department.

The ongoing construction of the high school and other schools in the district, along with the oversight of the bond programs financing the effort, was also on the meeting’s agenda. Midway through the evening, representatives of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) provided an annual report on Measures E and BH, looking at the fiscal year from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022. Much of the report focused on instituting greater protections and safeguards against fraud in the management of the bond funds.  

Board members acknowledged the difficulty in gleaning direction from the report due to its focus on 2021-2022. 

“These reports are so in arrears, and we’re already a year past the year being discussed here. Has anything been done in regard to fraud controls?” Margo asked Guzman. 

Indeed, those involved with the construction projects, including district and Fonder-Salari staff, have undergone fraud awareness training, Guzman said. 

CBOC member Jasmine Yadgari, a parent of a child enrolled in the district, was one of two people who presented the report. She spoke of potential misspending that might’ve occurred during the year examined.

After the committee’s presentation, each of the board members expressed their thanks for the oversight work, which cited a financial audit by firm Christy White as well as a performance audit by firm Moss Adams. 

According to Wells, the CBOC report underscored progress that has been achieved around the school district’s construction projects. After a tumultuous period, construction on the school modernization efforts have gone smoother due, in part, to the hiring of bond manager Fonder-Salari. Since the district retained the company’s services, it has closed the budget gap between the amount of funds available in the bonds and the construction costs in the district.

“When we talk about a gap in the construction, it’s not that the gap just disappeared—it’s smaller now because of all the work of Fonder-Salari,” Wells said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, each of the board members provided updates about events they’ve attended recently as well as upcoming programs for the community. Board Member Rachelle Marcus, a former BHUSD teacher, highlighted the Beverly Hills Junior Firefighters Academy, scheduled for July, as well as the city’s National Night Out block party, honoring the police department’s K-9s and taking place on Aug. 1.