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Commentary: Basic-Aid Status Right for Santa Barbara Elementary District

Leaving aside the emotions, the numbers make a convincing case for an immediate — and beneficial — shift in status.

A recent presentation to the Santa Barbara Board of Education concluded that moving the Santa Barbara Elementary School District to “basic-aid” status from “average daily attendance” could increase funding in the district by as much as $1.9 million per year. It’s an opportunity the board should seize. Almost every district that has achieved basic-aid status benefits from and appreciates it.

Lanny Ebenstein
Lanny Ebenstein (Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association photo)
Basic-aid status means more local control of local schools. A greater percentage of property taxes remain in the community to be spent in schools. All other local elementary districts — including Cold Spring, Goleta, Hope and Montecito Union — are now basic aid.

The crucial aspect of the reported $1.9 million of additional annual funding the elementary district could receive as a result of becoming a basic-aid district is that this would require the return of 313 students in the 5,700-student district who are on interdistrict transfers back to their original districts. Excluding 15 interdistrict transfers who are the children of employees in the Santa Barbara Elementary District who presumably would be allowed to remain, this would leave 298 transfers into the district from other districts from Ventura to San Luis Oblspo counties.

The Santa Barbara School Districts have experienced periods in which schools have opened and closed, and in which transfer policies have changed. In general, the districts have followed a humanitarian course, allowing considerable flexibility in transfers — but not allowing the duration of an implementation program to impede its purpose. For these reasons, it would appear desirable for the elementary district to adopt a policy in which some interdistrict transfer students in the elementary district could remain there.

A reasonable line to draw for continuing interdistrict transfers would appear to be this year’s third-graders, or next year’s fourth-graders. In addition, younger siblings of students in upper grades who are allowed to remain in the Santa Barbara Elementary School District also should be allowed to remain.

The reason basic-aid status is so valuable to achieve is that it allows future payments to the district from the state to be based more upon local property values. It is hard to imagine circumstances in which Santa Barbara property values would not do better than the rest of California, and for this reason it could be a much greater financial advantage for the elementary district to be a basic-aid district over time. The difference between becoming a basic—aid district and remaining an average-daily-attendance district would probably be in the vicinity of $20 million to $30 million in the first decade to the Santa Barbara Elementary District.

Issues with respect to interdistrict transfers will be important for the Board of Education to grapple with. But the overarching direction is clear: Basic-aid status is an important goal for the Santa Barbara Elementary District to achieve, if possible in the 2009-10 school year.

Lanny Ebenstein is a former Santa Barbara school board member.

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