Town Hall: Superintendent Cammack Informs Public of FUSD Budget Issues
By Jack Conner
2020 has undoubtedly been a troublesome year, and the pandemic has severely impacted numerous areas in life, most especially education. The new superintendent of the Fremont Unified School district, CJ Cammack, recently held a town hall to educate the public about news regarding the FUSD budget. The town hall also allowed for the public to ask questions and suggest solutions to the problems the school district is facing. Although no decisions were made, the meeting helped clarify issues in the FUSD’s budget and provided several options that could help improve the budget in coming years.
During the meeting, Cammack and his associates explained that the school board voted to reduce $11 million worth of expenditures in the 2021-2022 school year and $15 million in the 2022-2023 school year. This would bring the total loss in expenditures to $26 million over two years, a drastically high number that will severely impact how many programs schools can fund. One contributing factor to this decrease in the school’s budget is the decline in enrollment in FUSD schools, a number that is trending downwards over the coming years. The Average Daily Attendance (ADA) of schools is a major contributor to the FUSD’s funding, so less attendance means less money to fund schools. When discussing this issue, Cammack detailed that this issue, and many of the others impacting the district’s budget, was not unique to Fremont, but that doesn’t mean that the school board isn’t doing their best to utilize the budget as effectively as possible.
Another topic discussed during the town hall was pensions for FUSD employees. The way this pension system works is through employees contributing a portion of their salary to the pension fund, and, after they retire, these employees receive a state-designated amount of money from the pension fund. The state also controls the pension rates, the amount employees have to pay per year to keep money in the pension fund.. STRS (FUSD employees who require certifications to do their job) have seen their pension rates continue to increase over the years, going from roughly 8% in 2013 to 17% in the current school year. PERS (employees who don’t require certifications) have also seen their rates rise dramatically.
One unfortunate consequence of this budget shortage is that the Special Education program is receiving inadequate funding. Although Cammack and his associates on the school board agree that Special Education is a vital part of schooling and needs to be funded better, they have a lack of real options on how to go about it. Cammack explained throughout the meeting that the state determines the amount of funding FUSD receives, so, in many cases, the district does not have any options to increase funding.
The underfunding of not just the FUSD, but all California education, became even clearer when Cammack brought up a graphic depicting the results of a recent study. The findings of the study showed that California was towards the bottom of funding education, as it spent roughly $10,000 per student whereas the state that spends the most money on education, New York, spends almost $20,000 per student. Cammack reiterated that, if California were able to fund education even up to the national average, $12,000 per student, then the district would have far more flexibility and options for the budget.
Although the FUSD budget situation seems to be getting worse and worse with no real solution, Cammack, along with several members of the public, detailed a course of action to help the FUSD receive more funding. During the meeting, Cammack explained that writing to state legislators and other public officials could help them realize how much more funding schools in California really need. One of the members of the public who spoke at the meeting suggested the formation of an organized group to start a letter-writing campaign, hoping to bring even more attention to the issue at a statewide level. After the meeting, the East Bay Coalition for Public Education formed, and you can read their goal and message here. Although no official decisions were made, these suggestions are the first steps that the people of FUSD can take to gain better funding for the local schools, ensuring that every child in Fremont receives the proper education they deserve.