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Smith Accepts Offer to be Deputy School Superintendent

Financial consultant won praise and respect for helping sort out Santa Barbara districts' budget quagmire.

Eric Smith, the financial consultant who came to the Santa Barbara School Districts on a temporary basis in November to help sort out a budget quagmire, on Monday accepted the school board’s offer to become the permanent deputy superintendent.

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Smith, who will be paid $186,000 annually — which is about $5,000 more than his boss’ base salary — took the job at a time when the district is looking at cutting $4 million in programs because of California’s own budget crisis.

His relatively high salary is an indication of the difficulty the district has had in attracting strong candidates for the position, especially given Santa Barbara’s singularly expensive housing market. For months, Superintendent Brian Sarvis — whose benefits package still exceeds that of his new No. 2 man—had been trying to persuade the school board to boost the pay for the position to better allow him to find a highly qualified candidate. (Smith’s predecessor made about $129,000.)

But in a news release Monday, district officials were careful to state that the amount of Smith’s salary was available only because the district is shrinking the size of its administrative staff. For instance, the seat soon to be vacated by Assistant Superintendent Paul Turnbull, who is leaving for the superintendent’s position in Santa Ynez, will not be filled in 2008-09. In addition, Sarvis has said he will ask the board to cut some assistant principal positions this spring.

District officials also sought to convey their belief that Smith is well worth the money, noting that he “has already identified $780,000 in budget savings related to insurance expenditures, developer fees and other areas.”

The news release also quoted school board members and even a union official attesting to Smith’s financial acumen.

Brian Tanguay, president of the classified union — which represents custodians, secretaries and other nonteaching staff members — said in the statement that the hire was “the right move with the right man at the right time.”

Last summer, a couple of months after the school board made $2.5 million in budget cuts, the district’s business office thought it had discovered a $5 million surplus, which gave the impression the cuts were unnecessary, Sarvis said Friday.

Sarvis said he moved the top two budget officials out of the district. They were replaced by full-time director Shirley Corpuz and Smith.

Smith discovered that, because of overstated revenues and understated expenses, the surplus was only $2 million, Sarvis said.

Then, in January, the surplus was obliterated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s state budget proposal. In an effort to address a $14.5 billion budget gap, it called for cutting a record $4 billion from education. For the K-12 Santa Barbara school system, that means the school board must cut $4 million this spring from its $93 million discretionary budget for the 2008-09 school year.

Smith’s new contract includes a component for “housing assistance.” It’s unclear whether this means the district will offer him assistance in affording a loan for a home in Santa Barbara, where the median house price is $1.2 million. But, school board member Nancy Harter said, the contract includes a clause stating that he can terminate it if he is unable to secure a home loan within 90 days.

Smith has 21 years of experience in school business management and is the only sitting chief business official in the state to have worked as a chief business official for a school district, a county office of education, and as staff for the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal Poly, Pomona and a master’s degree in public administration from California State University, Stanislaus. He is a California Association of School Business Officials certified chief business official and attended the ACSA/CASBO “School Business Manager’s Academy."

Smith has served on the board of directors for the Self Insured Schools of California and has served two terms as president of the San Luis Obispo County Schools Insurance Program for Employees. He is the incoming president of the California Association of School Business Officials.

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