Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 4:21 pm | A Few Clouds 66º

 
 
 
 
Advice

Santa Barbara-Area School Districts Protest Reserve Fund Cap

Senate Bill 858 implemented a 6-percent reserve cap, limiting school districts' ability to save up for rainy days

Santa Barbara Unified School District board president Ed Heron says Senate Bill 858 is “bad law” that limits districts’ ability to save reserve funds.
Santa Barbara Unified School District board president Ed Heron says Senate Bill 858 is “bad law” that limits districts’ ability to save reserve funds.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

School board members from three counties gathered at the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s back-to-school meeting Wednesday to protest the state budget trailer bill that implemented a cap on reserve funds.

Voters approved Proposition 2 to create a statewide “Rainy Day Fund,” and Senate Bill 858 adds an asterisk to that by capping school district reserve fund levels every year that the state contributes to the rainy day fund.  

“Ironically, if the state puts a dollar into its ‘Rainy Day Fund,’ we have to spend ours,” Santa Barbara Unified school board president Ed Heron said.

With the new Local Control Funding Formula, K-12 school districts have more control over their own policy and finance decisions, as the name implies, and the mandated cap contradicts that, said John Walker, a school board member at the Ventura Unified School District.

Walker, a board member since 1989, said the district didn’t lay off a single permanent teacher during the recession due to the large reserve fund.

Ventura Unified transferred $5 million per year, for three years, to the general fund to keep teachers working and programs intact, he said.

A lower reserve fund could also impact school districts’ credit ratings and interest on bond payments, he said.

Before the LCFF, “we basically had no control whatsoever,” Heron said.

Santa Barbara Unified Superintendent Dave Cash said the district is investing heavily in professional development for teachers as schools switch to the new Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.
Santa Barbara Unified Superintendent Dave Cash said the district is investing heavily in professional development for teachers as schools switch to the new Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Spending is more flexible now and the district has an 8-percent reserve fund.

With the cap, the district would have to spend $2 million to 4 million to get it down to the cap of 6 percent, which is twice the state minimum of 3 percent.

Jack Garvin, from the Santa Maria Joint Union High School School District’s board, remembers a time when he, as a young teacher, had to ask parents to bring paper into class because the school spent every cent of its funding on unexpected bills from a harsh winter, like higher utility use and expanded bus routes.

Without adequate reserve funds, districts will be stuck without ways to pay for unexpected expenses, he said.

“This is a senseless, irresponsible piece of legislation,” Garvin said.

The California School Boards Association is leading the effort to “fix” Senate Bill 858. Legislative director Bryan DeBlonk said a repeal is not politically viable, but CSBA is pursuing a change to the bill to minimize impacts.

Some ideas include exempting small districts, raising the cap from 6 percent, and clarifying exactly what funds are included within the cap, DeBlonk said.

Ventura Unified was able to get through the recession years without laying off any permanent teachers due to the district’s reserve fund, which would be impossible with the new 6-percent cap, board member Jack Garvin said.
Ventura Unified was able to get through the recession years without laying off any permanent teachers due to the district’s reserve fund, which would be impossible with the new 6-percent cap, board member Jack Garvin said.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

California’s Legislature resumes its session on Monday and it ends in September, so school districts are hoping for a fix before then.

Smaller districts can’t even cover a month of payroll expenses with a 6-percent reserve fund, said Suzanne Kitchens, board member with the Pleasant Valley School District in Camarillo.

The Atascadero Unified School District has used reserves to repair earthquake damage, vandalism, floods from broken pipes, fix equipment and limit impacts from the recession, board member Tami Gunther said.

Districts are also talking about using reserve money for technology upgrades and new textbooks after the switch to the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.

Before the call to change Senate Bill 858, Santa Barbara Unified Superintendent Dave Cash gave an update on the happenings for the coming year, including an expansion of the restorative approaches discipline program, which has lowered suspension rates and increased contact between school staff and students. 

Bond funding was used to build new libraries at Adams and Washington elementary schools, and they'll both open to students this year, Cash said. 

Santa Barbara Unified is investing in professional development for its staff, and has been bringing on dozens of new faculty, hiring 85 new teachers last year and 46 so far for the coming year.

Cash personally oversees demonstration lessons from each candidate, and said there are several former students returning as teachers.

There are 15,532 students signed up for the coming year as of Tuesday, and classes begin Aug. 26 for traditional schools. 

Noozhawk managing editor 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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