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Santa Clarita Valley school districts still working through budget details

Posted: July 6, 2013 12:05 p.m.
Updated: July 6, 2013 12:05 p.m.

Two Santa Clarita Valley elementary school districts will restore their full school years in the fall, adding back school days that were cut to save money during lean financial times.

And while districts throughout the valley are calculating the impact of the new state budget and pondering the effects of Gov. Jerry Brown’s changes to school spending formulas, officials say they feel a new sense of optimism after years of spending cuts.

Still, they’re nowhere near their pre-recession funding levels, they say.

Over the past few years, local districts have been “deficit funded” to the tune of around 22 percent — meaning they have only received roughly three-quarters of the money they are supposed to get from the state.

Although Santa Clarita Valley elementary school districts have received some relief in the form of funds from Proposition 30 tax hikes, which spared schools from even further cuts, all of them have deficit funding built into their budgets for the next year based on recommendations from the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

“The budget our board adopted is based on the old funding formula,” said Ronna Wolcott, assistant superintendent of business services for the Newhall School District.

Despite the shortfall, Wolcott said the district plans to eliminate all furlough days for teachers and staff for the next school year.

The Saugus Union School District also plans to fully eliminate furlough days for the next school year, according to Cynthia Shieh, the district’s assistant superintendent of business.

“That’s huge and that’s our priority,” she said.

Shieh said the district had five furlough days this year and four the year before — days when classes should have been held but weren’t to save money on salaries.

While the district continues to be deficit funded at the 22 percent level, Shieh said it is “absolutely” moving in the right direction financially.

Retaining furlough days
While the same economic optimism was also expressed by Mark Evans, director of fiscal services for the Castaic Union School District, he said the uncertainty surrounding the state budget has thus far prevented the district from restoring its five furlough days.

Though it appears the district is moving in the right direction financially, Evans said, deficit funding from the state continues to be a significant hurdle. The continue to spend more than it takes in next year, he said.

“The revenues are moving in the right direction but we’re still in a deficit-spending mode,” he said.

The Sulphur Springs School District also plans to retain its furlough days, said Lynn David, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services.

“We decided it was best to be conservative and request them,” David said.

While the district is maintaining a fiscal “status quo” next year, David said she does believe there are signs of improvement in the near future.

“We’re anticipating a slow but continuous increase in our funding over the next few years,” she said. “So we think we’re in an upturn.”

Funding formula
While Proposition 30 and additional allotments to education in the recently passed state budget have stabilized school district funding, one of the difficulties still facing local districts is uncertainty surrounding Brown’s local control funding formula.

Traditionally, state education funding has been based mostly on student attendance, but Brown’s model would kick extra money to schools based on their populations of students who live under the poverty line, are English-language learners or live in foster care.

Until details of the new formula are worked out, local district officials say they are still unsure what the new model means for them.

“We have done lots of different projections based on information coming out prior to the state adopting the budget, but there are still a lot of unknowns,” Wolcott said.

Shieh, who called the new funding model a “historic reform,” said the Saugus district is trying to hammer out some of the intricacies involved.

“We’re working on it,” she said. “But it’s not like you can finish that overwhelming task overnight.”
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