$3.2 Million Surplus in SCUSD 2014-15 Budget
Like the quest for the philosopher’s stone – a magical substance to turn lead into gold – trying to make sense of a California school district budget is an endeavor that risks driving its practitioner to madness.
Hundreds of mouse-print pages long, filled with categories and accounts labeled with opaque California Department of Education (CDE) terminology – for example, there are eight categories that are essentially property taxes – understanding school budgets is practically a field of study in itself. At the June 26 Santa Clara Unified school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Mark Allgire tried to alleviate some of this headache-making intricacy with a narrative overview of the budget.
Unfortunately, Allgire followed a four-hour discussion of the California Voting Rights Act, so most people probably already had a headache.
The good news is that SCUSD’s 2014-2015 revenue will be roughly $149.5 million while its expenditures are anticipated to be slightly less: $146.3 million – leaving a $3.2 million surplus. This is less than the 2013-14 budget, which got a one-time boost from $22 million in former redevelopment agency money. Download the budget at www.santaclarausd.org/departments.cfm?subpage=144709.
New Funding Structure No Change For Basic Aid Districts Like SCUSD
The new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) will have no impact on SCUSD, because the district remains a Basic Aid district. Property taxes – 40 percent of property taxes collected – yield per-pupil funding that exceeds the LCFF, so the district gets very little state money. However, in developing the new funding plan, the legislature left in place the legacy of California’s many state budget crises: the “fair share” payment — “Education Protection Account State Aid.”
When the state cut the per-pupil funding for Revenue Limit districts it imposed a payment called the “fair share” on Basic Aid schools in the same percentage that Revenue Limit schools were being cut – “revenue limit deficit factor.” Although Revenue Limit schools’ funding is being restored, Basic Aid schools’ “fair share” remains frozen at 2013 levels, roughly $3 million in 2014-15.
A further hit for Basic Aid districts is that they don’t receive the supplemental funding for disadvantaged students and English Learners (ELs). However, they must set aside an equivalent amount for those programs – “targeted funds” which used to be called “EIA” funds. The money is allocated by school, so the schools with fewer “targeted” students get more per student, while schools that have more “targeted” students have less per student.
When it was presented at the June 26 board meeting, the counter-intuitive structure prompted Trustee Christopher Stampolis to suggest cutting funding from schools like Washington Open and Don Callejon to increase funding for schools with more students needing additional support. Trustee Andy Ratermann was all for considering increasing grants from the district’s surplus, but not cutting funding. And he disputed Stampolis’ contention that it was a “closed system.”
“Most of us know that equal does not mean equity,” said George Mayne teacher Teresa Hernandez. “What we have in our district is a disparity gap. If George Mayne were to leave the district, we’d be [among the] the richest schools …because we have all the toxic industry.” She then reiterated her conviction that the San Jose City Council’s approval of an industrial development next to Mayne was the result of SCUSD board malfeasance.
“Our Alviso district had zero representation at the San Jose City Council…It’s shameful,” she said, adding, “Mr. Ratermann, you said you’d find money for Pomeroy and you didn’t.”
In fact, several SCUSD board members spoke at the meeting, and, with Superintendent Stan Rose, met several times with San Jose Council members. Former Superintendent Bobbie Plough first raised the objection to the industrial plant so near a school in 2013. A link to the video of the June 10 San Jose Council meeting can be found at sanjoseca.gov/index.aspx?nid=3398.
$2.2 Million in 2012-13 Mis-Reported Categorical Funding to be Carried Forward
Last winter the state’s Federal Program Management team visited SCUSD to review the district’s use of categorical fund money in 2012-13, and found a $2.2 million discrepancy between funding that was reported in four schools’ budgets (Wilcox High School, Briarwood Elementary, Buchser Middle, and Scott Lane Elementary) and state allocations.
The money was subsequently allocated to the schools, and is reflected in the revised SPSAs for those schools. Since the money was allocated late in the school year, it will carry over to 2014-15. However, it won’t be reflected in the 2014-15 SPSAs until the fall, after the district closes the books on 2013-14. The EIA budget category, however, disappeared after the LCFF was enacted, and any carryover will be included in the “targeted funds” account.
“Following the review, the schools were able to document that although the EIA/SCE funds were not listed in the schools’ SPSAs they had gone through the required procedures and had spent the funds appropriately,” said CDE Public Information Officer Pam Slater in an email.
“To resolve the finding, the schools submitted revised SPSAs that showed the realignment of EIA funding allocations with approved carryover allocations and expenditures in alignment with the school funds allocated through CARS [the CDE’s reporting system] and that delineated the schools’ actual spending. In this case the money had been spent appropriately so there was no cause for action.”
Mission Possible: Down-to-Earth School Budgets
Demonstrating that a comprehensible school budget isn’t impossible, this year the San Francisco Unified school district overhauled its budget document. The district published the $716 million budget in a straightforward format (instead of a spreadsheet), with plain English descriptions of each budget item and explanations of where money comes from and where it goes.
Plus, the two-volume budget shows school and department budgets as well as district-level numbers – something that would help avoid mistakes like the $2.2 million one that the CDE found earlier this year. See it at www.sfusd.edu/en/about-sfusd/budget.html.