How Did West Contra Costa Unified’s Deficit Get So Big?

A Bay Area school district has seen its budget deficit explode from $10 million to $40 million in just a few months. Now, parents and school board officials are demanding answers.

EdSource reports that West Contra Costa Unified Superintendent Matthew Duffy learned of the troubling numbers last spring but did not report them to the public or the school board because he wasn’t sure if they were accurate.

The disclosure that the deficit had grown from $10 million estimated in June for 2018-19, and no deficit estimated in 2019-20, to nearly $40 million this school year,resulted in a closed-door school board meeting in November amid reports from some board members before the meeting who said they believed the meeting was being called to discuss Duffy’s possible ouster. No action was taken after several members of the public urged the board to allow the superintendent to help dig the district out of its fiscal quagmire.

Due to a one-time $4.5 million state preschool grant received this year, the district’s deficit was reduced to $35 million in December, but the ongoing structural deficit is still about $39.5 million, said Tony Wold, the district’s associate superintendent for business services, who was hired in August.

Duffy has said previous budget cuts did not go far enough in mitigating pay increases for teachers. Officials have also blamed inadequate tracking of expenditures, declining enrollment, rising benefit costs, poor budgeting, and changes in staff. Potential layoffs are now a major concern.

Read more at EdSource.