Monday, May 21 , 2018, 8:32 am | Mostly Cloudy 59º


Cash Says Governor’s Budget Would Bring ‘Sweeping Change’ to School District

Board members also review annual financial audit report

The Santa Barbara Unified School District has been deficit spending and borrowing money to make up for deferred payments from the state, but Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget would increase education funding for the first time in five years.

Instead of basic aid and revenue-limit funding formulas, Brown proposes a local control funding formula, Superintendent Dave Cash said at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

The Santa Barbara district gets only 77 cents to every dollar it’s supposed to receive, and state funding still would be 10 percent less than the 2007-08 year, he noted.

Brown’s proposed budget would eliminate some categorical program funding, including block grants, community-based English language tutoring, GATE, 7-12 grade counseling, K-3 and high school class size reduction, and more. It would not impact home-to-school transportation, special education or child nutrition.

This would be a “sweeping change to our current system,” Cash said.

Many districts on the edge of basic aid — having property tax revenues surpass what state funding would be — could be pushed into revenue limit if funding for these programs are swept over to unrestricted funds of school districts, said Meg Jette, assistant superintendent of business services.

The Goleta Union School District and Hope School District, for example, could be bumped out of basic aid, she added.

Brown’s budget would fund differently depending on the grade of the student, with additional money for K-3 class size reduction and career technical education for high schools.

The only chance for additional per-student funding with the local control formula would be through so-called supplemental and concentration grants, Cash said.

Supplemental grants would offer an additional 35 percent of the base student grant for each foster youth, English learner and child eligible for a free or reduced lunch. 

The other is much more controversial, Cash said. It also would offer 35 percent on top of the base grant for the three groups of students mentioned above, but the money is given only if the district as a whole has more than 50 percent of its population in those categories. And then, the money is given only to students above that 50 percent threshold, Cash said.

Like many other districts, the school populations vary widely, and board members openly scoffed at the idea of analyzing the population data from a districtwide level.

“That just seems ridiculous,” board member Kate Parker said.

Board member Pedro Paz said it would make more sense if it was reversed — if the concentration grants were based on individual school data, and funding was then given to the district as a whole.

“We could have 49.999 percent and somebody else could have 51 percent, and they’ll get the concentration grant and we won’t,” Cash said.

Peabody Charter School and Adelante Charter School leaders are excited about the proposed budget since their per-student funding would increase immensely, Jette said.

The district plans to build its reserves, not deficit-spend, and keep looking for efficiencies, Cash said.

“We also need to stay focused on student achievement,” he said.

As part of that, professional development is important to help with the change to Common Core State Standards and the integration of technology into the classroom, he added.

Santa Barbara Teachers Association president Layne Wheeler agreed, and asked the Board of Education to reward the employees who have taken salary hits to help the district close its budget gaps in the past.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board looked over the annual financial audit report. Royce Townsend of Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Co. LLP said the district has been deficit-spending for the last few years and was on track to do so again this year. However, the report was prepared before Proposition 30 was passed in November, which will bring additional school funding.

Cash flow is also a huge problem for Santa Barbara and many other districts, since almost 40 percent of state monies are delayed.

“You can’t spend what you don’t have,” Townsend said.

As a result of payroll and ongoing operating costs, districts have to borrow internally from other funds or externally. His firm made some recommendations for handling Associated Student Body finances — a problem that has shown up on most audits in the past — and payroll timing issues, he said.

The audit also found that the Measures Q and R general obligation bond funds were spent appropriately.

Another consideration in funding is enrollment trends. Elementary school enrollments are expected to decline in a few years, while high school enrollments will stay stable for about 10 years before declining, Lanny Ebenstein said in a presentation to the board Tuesday. Ebenstein is president of the California Center for Public Policy.

He correlated enrollment rates to local birth rates, and said births started dropping off in 2009 locally. It’s a trend seen throughout the county and California as a whole — there was a statewide decline from 566,137 in 2007 to 209,979 births in 2010, according to his data.

Of the total K-12 public school students on the South Coast, two-thirds of them attend Santa Barbara Unified.

“So many kids are born in this community, they go to schools in this community and such a high percentage of them go to public school in this community; two-thirds of local public school students go to Santa Barbara Unified, so this is an institution that more families’ lives are involved with than any other,” Ebenstein said.

The district’s enrollment peaked in the late 1960s and then declined enough in the 1970s to close six schools, he said. McKinley Elementary, Santa Barbara Charter, what’s now Adelante Charter and Santa Barbara Community Academy were all opened in the 1990s to accommodate more students.

Ebenstein suggested that it’s probably safe for the district to start replacing portable classrooms with permanent ones instead of planning to built additional classrooms, because of these projected enrollment declines. 

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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