Community engagement surges as Long Beach school budget vote nears


Concerns about the Long Beach school district budget and a possible school closure continue to grow. As the May vote on the spending plan approaches, community members are becoming more involved.

At the March 26 Board of Education meeting, the topics of discussions included residents’ apprehensions about program changes, and the portion of the budget that will be directed to special education.

The district administration has proposed a spending plan totaling $155.7 million, roughly $4 million, or 2.7 percent, more than the current budget. Roughly $22 million will be earmarked for special education, an increase of about $1 million, or 5.26 percent. The added spending includes plans for another elementary-level special education class at Lido Elementary School, and the introduction of two new Integrated Co-Teaching classes at West Elementary.

Due to uncertainty about foundation aid and interest earnings, the school board is taking a cautious approach to its financial planning.

A federal grant will provide funding for a new social worker. “We put that back in the proposed budget,” board President Dennis Ryan said, “because we’ve been listening to what everyone’s been saying — mostly from our special education educators, our school administrators — that we really need that social worker to remain and to be added to the budget, just because of the mental health needs that we have throughout the district.”

Residents and parents have expressed a mix of appreciation for and reservations about the district’s educational initiatives. While there is widespread gratitude for maintaining programs, board meeting attendees have raised concerns about the lack of discussion of summer school and credit makeup opportunities.

Additionally, there are calls to reassess budget allocations for enrichment programs, and to ensure that social workers receive adequate training to address students’ mental health. Parents acknowledge the dedication of the special-education staff, but have complained about a lack of transparency in the budgeting process.

As well, the potential closure of East School continues to be a hot topic, with parents stressing the necessity of considering the broader impacts of the closure, beyond academic performance and space utilization. Under the proposed plan, East School administrators would move to the Lindell and Lido elementary schools, and two assistant principal positions could be eliminated.

Board trustees have said they recognize that the decision goes beyond tax savings and involves broader considerations, like Long Beach’s property values and student population trends, which could impact future state funding.

“The first two months that my daughter attended East (School), she walked to school sobbing,” one parent said at last week’s meeting. “She was only 4, and it was her first time leaving home. My son similarly started his education, with the added bonus of Covid-19, masked, crying and filled with anxiety. My children both took their first big steps into the world in this building, as they began to navigate their new lives outside our home. The transformation between the children who first entered this building to the little people today is tremendous. They’re thriving and excelling in their academics and numbers. I want to thank the staff, who has my gratitude always for being my kids’ first teachers, and for starting them off with a positive association with education. That’s why I’m here to say I care, to take care of my family. I’m more than just a mother, I’m a homeowner, astounded by the lack of preparation, foresight and transparency when it comes to East School.”

The board plans to continue soliciting community feedback, and to form an advisory committee, before deciding on the future of the school.

Other concerns about the spending plan focused on the increasing cost of operational repairs, teacher salaries and program reinstatements. The board is set to continue budget deliberations through next month before the plan is put a public vote on May 21. The budget hearing is set for May 14. East School discussion will continue through June.