Potential new funding model could mean worse news for school budget

As the school district grapples with yet more impending cuts to the budget, the Governor’s office is introducing plans for a potential funding strategy that could wreak havoc on school budgets throughout the state.

With Sacramento continuing to toy with the numbers, the local school budget remains a moving target despite some $2.6 million in cuts for the 2012-2013 school year that were approved at last month’s board meeting.

At issue, additional proposed cuts of $370 per student and the elimination of school transportation funding for next year.  The cuts hinge on an attempted tax increase that would grace the November 2012 ballot.  If the measure passes, the $370 Average Daily Attendance cuts won’t happen.  If the measure doesn’t pass, all bets are off.

In the meantime, midyear cuts for the 2011-2012 school year brought a “slight fiscal benefit” for the district according to Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese.  December’s cuts were to have been close to $375,000 pulling from both ADA and transportation.  According to Frese, transportation was spared resulting in cuts in the range of $230,000 to $250,000 instead.

Perhaps more alarming, the Governor’s proposed “Weighted Formula Trailer Bill” which would change the model for school funding significantly.  Conceptually, this formula would eliminate state categorical programs and offer funding on a per-student only basis or, what school board member Dan Gustafson called, “less money, more freedom.”

Under the proposed formula, the per-student funding rate would be a base amount of $4,920.  An additional $1,820 would be added per English Language Learner or socioeconomically disadvantaged student. Another $364 would be added for a concentration of more than 50 percent per district of ELL/SED students.  In Sonoma, when compared with the current rate of funding, the numbers work out to a loss of approximately $1,105,000.

“If there is any good news to this proposed plan it is that the state is planning to phase it in over six years,” said Frese.  He continued, stating that, if approved, the first year of the plan would see a five percent cut or a $55,000 loss to the district.  The cuts are incremental after that until the full 100 percent cut in 2017-2018, amounting to the $1,105,000.  One silver lining, this plan does not include the elimination of $640,000 in transportation funding in 2012-2013 which, according to Frese, would come as a relief to many school districts scrambling to figure out how to get students to and from school without transportation funding in the coming school year.

“The bottom line is that we need to plan for the $370 ADA cut per student,” said Frese.  “Everything coming from the state is uncertain and the problem is that the punch line is missing.  When people ask what we’re going to do, we have to say, ‘We don’t know.’  We’ll have more information later but for now, it’s a waiting game.”

More information is available on the school district web site at svusdca.org.


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