LCUSD Could Feel State Education Financial Squeeze

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La Cañada Unified School District officials took a hard look last week at a tightening financial outlook.
Chief Business and Operations Officer Mark Evans warned that it appears several years of an unprecedented boost in statewide education funding will end in 2017-18. That financial influx was an effort, Evans said, to “close the gap,” or to get districts back to the level of funding they had before the 2008 recession. But those levels did not account for technology modernization expenses.
“That’s prior to WiFi,” Governing Board member Ellen Multari said. “Before 1-to-1 Chromebooks; it was the inception of the first iPhone. We’re trying to get back to that funding level.”
There are other new expenses, too: Districts are more heavily burdened by rising pension costs; there are additional health and welfare increases; and, locally, LCUSD’s recently revised contracts with teachers and classified staff will equate to annual costs increases of 1.75% and 1%, respectively.
And though Evans said LCUSD isn’t in as bad a shape as many other California districts might be, with reserves to help weather a reduction in state funding, it still could feel a squeeze.
In 2017-18, the district is expected to have a $1.32 million shortfall, said Gretchen Bergstrom, director of fiscal services.
“You can see the problem,” she said.
State funding is broken up into per-pupil base grants, with supplemental and concentration grants allotted to districts based on the number of students who are classified as English learners, those who receive free or reduced-price meals or those who are foster youth.
Having never received substantial supplemental or concentration funding, LCUSD officials previously took solace in the notion that if cuts ever were needed, reductions wouldn’t come from base funding. Now it appears they will.
“The thinking was when we hit a recession, the types of funding that will be reduced will be the supplemental and concentration,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said. “And because we’re not dependent on that, it would be less of an impact. So now you not only would have suffered the lack of supplemental and concentration grant dollars, but you’re reducing a base that’s already too low.”
Evans added that the small size of the district doesn’t help when it comes to negotiating: “Sometimes it costs us more per student because we have fewer students. It’s economy of scale: We’re getting less money and it’s more expensive to operate on a smaller scale.”
Evans also cautioned that although the state is supposed to continue to cover cost-of-living increases, he wouldn’t guarantee it.
“COLA is law and what you’re supposed to get, but we’ve seen deficits before where they don’t fully fund it,” he said.
Said Governing Board member Kaitzer Puglia: “We’re surrounded by districts that have more flexibility in their funding. And this is a district working so hard to be efficient. It just seems very frustrating.”
Sinnette said the Facilities Master Plan that’s currently being considered (and could be paid for by a potential bond, if local voters approve one) isn’t an indication that LCUSD’s “budget is rosy.”
Rather, she sees it as prudent planning that will allow the district to recognize efficiencies as it prepares “a vision for what 21st Century teaching and learning looks like.”
The Facilities Master Plan will help the district identify ways to save money, Evans said, citing modernizing utilities so they’re greener and less expensive.

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