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By Tom Chorneau
Monday, May 07, 2012
SEE PUBLIC COMMENTS BELOW
With only a week to go before release of the revised May budget, there are storm signs ahead for Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal for restructuring school finance and perhaps a signal in response from the administration.
SEE PUBLIC COMMENTS BELOW
The governor’s plan for simplifying the school funding system using a weighted formula has received mixed reviews since it was unveiled in January. Most education groups have acknowledged Brown’s ambition as laudable but have warned against making such a significant change when so many school budgets are under intense pressure.
While the proposal has been set aside for discussion outside the budget already by legislative panels, this week it will get one more hearing in a rare joint session Wednesday of both the Senate and Assembly education committees.
A key issue likely to get a lot of attention is the long-term impacts of Brown’s weighted formula that provides districts additional money for disadvantaged students. But the weighted formula will also create winners and losers over time – a fact that could provoke a thorny political dilemma just as the governor is marshaling support for his tax measure on the November election.
District fiscal managers in some suburban districts say the governor’s plan – as currently structured – could devastate their schools.
“We would end up six years from now with less revenue than we have today,” said Chris Learned, associate superintendent of business services at Acalanes Union High School District. “That set off alarm bells for me, because we’ve already taken a 20 percent hit and zero (cost of living increase) over the past four years and to come out of it, six years later, with less revenue per ADA than we are getting now – we just can’t do it.”
Despite calls to set the plan aside at least for this year, Brown has insisted the restructuring proposal remain part of the budget and has told education groups to expect to see it next week as part of the revised May budget.
Following some adjustments made in February, the plan would provide a base funding grant of $4,920 per pupil multiplied by average daily attendance.
It would hold districts harmless from losses in funding in the first year of transition, a process he would accomplish over six years. The governor also would limit to five percent the amount of state funding to be covered by the new system in 2012-13.
The additional grant for disadvantaged students would be equal to 37 percent of the base grant for each student who is either enrolled in the subsidized meal program or is an English learner (not both).
Although in a general the weighted formula would tend to benefit large urban districts to the expense of districts in the suburbs – the division is actually more complicated.
Under the governor's existing plan many big urban districts would lose their Targeted Instructional Improvement Block Grant money which in most cases would offset gains they would receive as a result of having large numbers of disadvantaged students.
Suburban schools are united in their opposition to the plan, however, reflecting the impact of the formula on their demographics.
While the details of the funding formula are clearly critical, the message most school officials are sending is until funding cuts from the past four years are restored – they will continue to be opposed to the weighted plan.
“What I hear from superintendents is that they do appreciate the governor’s intentions and are open and sympathetic to a simpler finance system and one that is more flexible,” explained Michael Hulsizer, chief deputy of governmental affairs for Kern County Superintendent of Schools.
“But before we make that change, we have to restore the reductions, district by district, that have been taken with new money that comes back into the system,” said Hulsizer, who is also a budget analyst and legislative advocate for the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. “If you don’t do that, you are taking money from one district and giving it to another that’s been cut, and that just doesn’t work. It’s not fair, and it’s going to further destabilize our system.”
There are signs Brown may be reconsidering key elements of his weighted formula. Sue Burr, executive director of the California State Board of Education and a key adviser to Brown, has said publicly the governor has been open to revisions and has considered a number of them.
Mike Kirst, president of the state board and a Brown adviser going back decades, declined to be interviewed for this article but said in an e-mail late last week that a “major decision” on the weighted formula had been made for release in the May budget plan. Kirst did not give any further details.
If Brown does back away from the weighted formula, there would be strong political incentive.
If Brown were to push ahead with the current weighted plan and pit district against district – he might find his way to the votes he needs to adopt the landmark finance restructuring. But some pols have warned such a bruising budget battle just two or three months ahead of the critical November election could seriously jeopardize Brown’s tax measure because of the key role the education groups are expected to play in the campaign.
From Robert Wolfe, Asst. Supt., Business Services Menifee Union SD:
My School District’s undeficited Base Revenue Limit (BRL) for 2011/12 is $6,212.54/ada. The average elementary district BRL for 2011/12 was $6,247/ada.
My salary schedules were negotiated when my funded BRL was $5,534.54/ada.
Any proposal to change the funding model for K-12 education that has a base of less than $5,534.54/ada is a nonstarter.
My district under the Governor’s WSF (initial) and now altered WSF remains a significant loser.
Menifee was a loser with SB 81 $345K; Menifee was a big loser under QEIA program. We lost $2.145 million. These are monies we will never get back. To impose a WSF that institutionalizes an ongoing cut forever is a disservice to the community, to the district’s kids and to district staff.
If the Legislature is considering accepting a $5,200 base WSF (or anything less than the original paper’s base of $6,000) it has to be accompanied by a state law that MANDATES a salary roll back to 2006/07 levels (funded BRL at $5,293.54/ada for my district; average elementary $5,326/ada). And when I say mandated I mean no negotiations necessary.
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