Thursday, May 24 , 2018, 10:32 pm | Overcast 58º


Local School Districts Tighten Their Belts as Budget Deadlines Loom

Even deeper cuts are expected with lower state funding allocations and 'fair share' revenue limits

It turns out that you can put a price on a child’s education.

May revisions of the California budget reduce the dollar amount per student afforded to revenue-limit school districts and enact “fair share” revenue grabs from basic aid districts, causing local administrators to plan up to seven-figure cuts for the next fiscal year.

The Santa Barbara School District’s secondary district is among revenue-limit districts, which are hit the hardest since they rely on state aid in addition to local property tax revenues.

The base amount of unrestricted money per student is reduced another $283 per student, which adds up to a $2.6 million loss in revenue for the secondary district, said Eric Smith, deputy superintendent of business for the district.

Since taxes are pretty flat and state aid isn’t increasing to make up for it, it’s “a sneaky way of saying they’re not going to restore the funds,” he said.

District budgets are due June 30, and there could be changes to the state budget afterward, so Smith is preparing for the possibility of additional cuts next fall or throughout the year.

The district has 8 percent reserves, “but we’re burning them down now,” he said. “We can’t keep doing that, obviously.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May revision also eliminates state funding for child-care assistance, though it doesn’t affect state-funded preschool or after-school programs.

It could affect general child care before and after school, but specific cuts are unknown since the state is unlikely to adopt a budget by the June 30 deadline.

“We’re out here flying blind, adopting a budget before we know all the facts,” Smith said.

Unrelated to the May revisions, a local child development program is on the chopping block, though its funding comes from local donations and organizations, including First 5 of Santa Barbara County. Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, or HIPPY, is in danger of closing unless it can get $100,000 by August, according to a district news release. The program includes early care for at-risk youths from low-income families.

Of its typical $120 million budget, the Santa Barbara School District has cut $6 million already for the 2010-11 school year and expects to slash an additional $2.6 million in the secondary district and $659,000 in the elementary district because of the “fair share” calculation.

Local elementary school districts are basic aid funded — that is, they subsist off local property taxes since they can reach and exceed their state-determined revenue limits without state aid. However, they now participate in “fair share,” meaning their revenue limit amount is determined and the state has taken the excess amounts so basic aid districts “share in the pain.” Districts keep paying until they pass $1.5 million, Smith said.

The Goleta Union School District will have modest expense reductions of about $250,000 next year, according to an earlier budget discussion at a Board of Trustees meeting. For Goleta, the May revision didn’t hold surprises.

“We sort of planned what was confirmed in May,” said Ralph Pachter, assistant superintendent of fiscal services.

There won’t be much staff downsizing, but expenditures and program support to schools will be reduced. A slew of retirements provided cost savings as well, though the state budget’s uncertainty means there could be more cuts in the future, he said.

The district’s budget is about $36.5 million for the next fiscal year.

Smaller districts such as Cold Spring School, the Montecito Union School District and the Hope Elementary School District are all basic aid, but are facing funding reductions of hundreds of thousands of dollars because of “fair share” losses and relatively flat property tax revenues.

The one-school Cold Spring district has seen huge funding reductions in the past few years from its $3 million-or-so budget, Principal Bryan McCabe told Noozhawk.

From $300,000 in the 2006-07 year, it has dropped to $60,000 for the 2010-11 fiscal year through “fair share” losses, he said. Some small programs already have been cut, including an after-school Spanish program, a school counselor position and study aides.

The Hope Elementary School District will reduce expenditures by about $200,000 next year, with similar cuts expected for the following two years, business manager Sandi Doria said. The district’s annual budget is about $9.5 million.

Calls to the Montecito Union School District were not returned.

All district budgets are due June 30 and will be presented to governing boards within the next few weeks.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Noozhawk interns Andrea Ellickson and Michael Goldsholl contributed to this report.

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