School District Pushes Forward Despite Funding Cuts

The news sounded all good when reported by Senator Ted Lieu a couple of weeks back during his State of the State address. He confirmed that every school district in California will receive more money next year than in 2013, with base grants up by an average of $537 per pupil. The goal was to offset the adverse impacts of Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that gave school districts more flexibility in spending, but also took monies away from some districts--including many in the South Bay--in favor of those in more disadvantaged areas.

Though pleased to see matters improve compared to what could have been, El Segundo Unified School District Superintendent Geoff Yantz said there is still a long way to go to get back to square one. “Public schools have received additional allocation because the voter-approved Prop 30 and the economy are doing better, but the new funding formula is still taking money away from districts like El Segundo and others with similar demographics and allocating to districts with higher percentages of foster youth, students who are English language learners or those on free or reduced lunch,” explained Yantz. “In the end, based on calculations of an eight-year projection, in 2021 we’ll receive one more dollar per student than we did in 2007. It’ll basically be the same revenue 15 years later except with 2021 costs.” Yantz emphasized that had Lieu not lobbied hard for the extra monies to soften the effects of the Governor’s initial proposal, El Segundo Unified and other comparable districts would now be in a far more serious world of hurt. That said, the Superintendent added that El Segundo will get nowhere near the $537 per pupil total mentioned by Lieu. “Some districts may be getting $1,000 and others $100 per student—we’re only getting a few hundred thousand dollars more overall,” he said, adding that $250,000 represents just one percent of the District’s budget. “There are winners and there are losers and we’re losers in this.”

To further illustrate his point, Yantz noted that El Segundo Unified must now kick in $510,000 out of its general fund to continue its participation with the Torrance-based Southern California Regional Occupation Center (SoCalROC) that provides college preparatory programs and support services for local students. The Governor’s funding formula inadvertently eliminated categorical funding for SoCalROC, threatening to close the facility in the process. Lieu and others succeeded in earning a two-year reprieve to buy time to save SoCalROC—but school districts must now pay for the service out of their own pockets.
Funding in general has been a major challenge for the last five years. The State instituted a 23 percent across-the-board cut when the recession peaked in 2008—resulting in a staggering loss for El Segundo Unified. The District will receive $2.2 million less in in 2013-14 under teh LCFF than it did in 2007-08 under the prior Revenue Limit Formula (RLF). If the RLF were still in place today, the District would receive $4.8 million more annually than it will under the LCFF.

The State’s actions in 2008 forced the El Segundo School Board to make some difficult and painful decisions in order to maintain programs, staffing and the quality of education. “Those decisions, along with the support from the City, Ed Foundation, PTAs and local corporations like Chevron, have put us in a good position now,” said Yantz. “There are districts still laying off people, using reserves or having furlough days. Not us. We’ve been fortunate to restore programs that have been eliminated or reduced, and our reserve levels are adequate. We’ve got wonderful, engaging courses that are new at the Middle School and High School and some initiatives going in place that will certainly make our schools that much better.”
One program that didn’t come back was class size reduction previously mandated at a 20:1 student/teacher ratio for kindergarten through third grade rooms and for ninth and 10th grade English and math. While those class sizes increased a bit in El Segundo, they are still at very efficient levels, according to Yantz. Meanwhile, the only teaching position eliminated was for woodshop—but that became absorbed into an engineering program thanks to grant monies provided by Chevron. On the non-teaching, or classified, side, the District added back all of the eliminated positions and the majority of the reduced staff hours. Among the various cost saving measures implemented, the District has also reduced energy consumption by 35 percent after putting an initiative into place in 2008.

Despite the State funding cuts, the District’s short-term prospects are good, with the ability to cover costs and even add some support staff while remaining solvent over the next three years. At the same time, Yantz cautioned that this level of prosperity won’t be sustainable given that Claifornia is 49th in the country when it comes to funding education and that the LCFF will continue to hurt districts like El Segundo. “The State has put us in a position to be increasingly dependent on our local sources of funding,” Yantz said. “We have to be mindful of what programs and class sizes other neighboring districts are offering and how their local community is supporting the schools. School districts like El Segundo are completely dependent on their local sources of revenues such as tax initiatives and foundations. Long term, in order to stay competitive, El Segundo is going to need to ensure that we’re making similar investments in our local school system.”

Though too early to say what those investments might entail, Yantz indicated that District officials will have to consider multiple options to ensure El Segundo continues to compete academically and otherwise with areas such as Manhattan Beach and Palos Verdes. “We’re in a good place right now, but if we accept the status quo, it will be difficult for us to provide comparable programs, class sizes, maintain facilities, and continue to retain and attract high-quality educators and support staff,” he said. “The message right now is we must be aware of all this because of all the factors that have come into play."