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School districts ponder Brown’s spending plan

Posted: January 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

While Gov. Jerry Brown has said his proposed budget will be a statewide boon for education, local district officials are still unsure whether they will be winners or losers should his proposal go into effect.

Brown’s proposal, unveiled Jan. 10, seeks to both increase the amount of money the state spends on education and give districts more control over how they spend that money.

Kindergarten to 12th-grade education funding has fallen drastically over the last five years, with billions of dollars cut statewide.

Brown estimated public schools faced as much as $6 billion in additional funding cuts had voters not approved the Proposition 30 tax hikes in November.

While Brown’s proposal does include increased education funding, it also carries distinct, substantive changes in the way school funding is determined.

Under Brown’s proposal, districts that have a larger population of English-language-learning, economically disadvantaged or foster-care students would receive more money from the state.

Brown proposed a similar funding model early in 2012. But some criticized that proposal, saying it could potentially take money away from more affluent districts.

Mark Evans, the director of fiscal services for Castaic Union School District, said language in Brown’s latest proposal may help districts avoid funding cuts.

This is through a potential measure known as a “hold harmless” that would keep district funding levels from decreasing as Brown’s proposal is implemented.

Brown’s first proposal contained no such provision, Evans said.

“With the ‘hold harmless,’ districts aren’t winners and losers,” Evans said. “Without it, some districts could come up smelling like a rose and others could be negatively impacted.”

Ronna Wolcott, assistant superintendent of business services for the Newhall School District, said the district could actually benefit from Brown’s proposed funding changes.

“Because of the demographics of the population we serve, we would be one of those districts that would benefit from the new formula,” Wolcott said. Newhall school district has a high percentage of English-language-learning and low-income students.

But Wolcott stressed that it is unclear how Brown’s proposal might change over the next few months.

“We have some broad strokes of how the plan works,” Wolcott said. “But we don’t have the detail.”

Lynn David, the assistant superintendent of business services for Sulphur Springs School District, said it is too early to tell whether the proposal would benefit the district.

“We’re looking forward with great anticipation to a little more clarification,” David said last week. “That’s when we can plug in some numbers to give us some definitive details.”

David did say the earlier Brown proposal, which was similar to the one outlined in his budget, would have cost Sulphur Springs “significant funding.”

Susan Hoerber, the chief financial officer for the William S. Hart Union High School District, said the proposed changes could actually result in the high school and junior high school district receiving less money.

The district, like many statewide and locally, has 22.7 percent of its funding docked by the state this year, Hoerber said.

That adds up to about $38.1 million less in funding next year, Hoerber estimated.

While the district would still benefit financially from Brown’s budget proposal compared to its current funding levels, it would receive about $10 million less per year under Brown’s proposal than if the state fully funded the district under the current model, Hoerber said.

“Fully funded, we’re better off,” Hoerber said. “But I feel so very fortunate that we’re not looking at more places to cut.”

California’s fiscal year begins July 1. The Legislature has the final say on the state’s spending blueprint.

Lmoney@signalscv.com

661-287-5525

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