SCUSD Five-Year Budget Forecast
The Santa Clara Unified School District’s five-year budget forecast shows the district with deficits in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Driving the deficit are sharp declines in state funding and returns from Redevelopment Agency dissolution. The district would have a $7 million deficit for the upcoming year, were it not for two one-time windfalls: $8 million from Santa Clara RDA dissolution and an $8 million additional per-student Average Daily Attendance (ADA) state grant.
When Governor Jerry Brown overhauled California’s school funding system in 2012, he didn’t say that schools were automatically getting more money from the state. Brown’s plan was, first, to simplify the labyrinthine structure of by-program (“categorical”) funding; and second, reduce state involvement in funding for affluent schools, while providing more money for districts with significant percentages of low-income and non-English-speaking children.
Affluent school districts are to be funded largely from local property tax revenue. Because Prop 13 caps property taxes, if one public agency gets more of that revenue, someone else gets less. In this case, Sacramento shut down the state’s redevelopment agencies, regaining property taxes that had been diverted by RDAs, appropriating RDA cash and selling off assets. Schools get 40 to 45 percent of that money.
While the new financing structure was being put in place, Prop 30’s temporary tax increases stanched the dire bloodletting that characterized California school budgets since 2008. However, once the RDAs are gone and Prop 30 sunsets, state funding drops about 50 percent and “other local” – i.e. former RDA – revenue declines about 20 percent. While it seems like the explosion in real estate prices should be driving faster growth in property tax revenues, property tax distribution is always a year behind. Thus, it will take a few years before property taxes will fill the gap.
Stampolis Proposes More Spur of the Moment Spending
At the June 25 SCUSD board meeting, discussion of the five-year forecast, and the impending return to deficits, was overshadowed by Trustee Christopher Stampolis’ proposal that the board add another $1 million to this year’s budget for hiring more guidance counselors before school starts in about six weeks.
This comes after the board spent over a month reviewing and approving its detailed plan for meeting educational objectives (the Local Control Accountability plan, LCAP) and the corresponding budget for achieving it. Stampolis’ proposal is similar to one he and former Trustee Ina Bendis put forward last year to hire more librarians at Petersen Middle School.
“I wholeheartedly agree we need more counselors,” said Trustee Noelani Sallings. “But we need be thoughtful … and not just jump on the best thing at this moment. You need to plan. We’re looking at a deficit budget … and we also know we need equity in education. So what will bring equity in education?”
Trustee Michele Ryan pointed out that the board had just reviewed and approved the LCAP. Spending decisions should be deliberate, not done on the fly. “Once we spend it [money], it’s gone.”
“This is not leadership this is irresponsible,” said Trustee Andrew Ratermann.
“This is leadership,” Stampolis said. “This is the sausage-making of leadership … This is why we’re elected. This is saying, you have a million dollars [the additional funding], you go figure out to do it.”
“I think staff has gotten the message this is important,” said Trustee Jim Canova. “I would rather take the time … than rush it.”
Several people pointed out that hiring additional qualified staff before school starts would be difficult, and that there was no plan for deploying the additional counselors.
“Eighty-five percent of our students don’t complete A to G [California State and UC admission requirements],” he said peremptorily. “We have a chance to fix this now or wait another year!”
“The reasons for that are manifold, and it’s not just counseling,” answered Superintendent Stan Rose. “There are so many things we have to look at … We need to be purposeful in how we do this.”
“Are you suggesting that we not allocate funding for counselors?” said Stampolis
“I don’t believe that’s what Dr. Rose said,” said Sallings.
“It feels like a political question not a policy question,” Rose answered Stampolis. At that point Sallings said, “I want to remind staff, including Dr. Rose, that we have a resolution that you do not have to talk to Trustee Stampolis.” This was one of the terms of the Board’s censure of Stampolis, after Petersen Principal Susan Harris received a permanent restraining order against him for harassment.
Rose said he didn’t mind addressing Stampolis’ issue. The discussion ended when the motion died without a second.
County Education Office Finance Chief and RDA Dissolution Board Member Micaela Ochoa “Steps Down” in Wake of Payroll Mess
In the latest chapter of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s payroll scandal, last week the COE announced that Chief Business Officer Michaela Ochoa “was stepping down” from her $235,000 a year job “to pursue other professional opportunities,” according to a July 2 press release.
Ochoa was in charge of a payroll operation that issued paychecks filled with errors and was delinquent in tax payments, earning the COE about $200,000 in IRS fines in 2014. Ochoa was quick to blame the County Controller, but later County Finance Director Emily Harrison admitted that Ochoa’s office was responsible for the late payments. The IRS eventually forgave the fines. The COE is still correcting paychecks and pension records, San Jose Mercury’s Sharon Noguchi reported last week.
Joining Ochoa in pursuing new ways to deploy her talents is COE attorney Maribel Medina. Last year Medina refused to comply with a Mercury News public records request for Ochoa’s calendar, telling the Mercury’s Internal Affairs blog that making the records public would keep Ochoa’s office from “being able to fulfill the functions of her position.” Last summer, Ochoa took off most Mondays and Wednesdays reportedly to work on her Ph.D. in education, according to the Mercury.
In 2013, the COE appointed Ochoa to represent Santa Clara Unified on the notorious RDA dissolution oversight board. Despite her professed interest in education, Ochoa stood with the board majority to halt construction on Santa Clara’s Northside library in 2013 when it became the object of a county “clawback,” and refused to support the City in its claim that the library was a government purpose asset (a power that the 2011 law shutting down California RDAs explicitly grants dissolution oversight boards).