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District is facing fiscal uncertainty

More money could eventually be coming to Del Norte County schools under Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to change K-12 education funding. But local officials are wait to see how state lawmakers weigh in on the issue.

In the meantime, cutbacks loom on other fronts.

Under Brown’s proposed local control funding formula, released in January, all California schools would receive at least what they get currently. If approved, education funding would be allocated based on a district’s percentage of low-income students, English language learners and foster children, according to the Associated Press.

Brown has said a change is necessary to provide more help to low-income schools, but some lawmakers are concerned that the funding model would short-change wealthier districts.

“In California there’s a great discrepancy in how schools are funded,” said Don Olson, superintendent for Del Norte County Unified School District.

Some districts receive roughly $5,000 per student while others get as much as $25,000 per student, Olson told School Board members Thursday.

“The philosophy is (we’ll) keep rich districts where they are and enhance the other, more rural, less fortunate districts,” he said.

In the Del Norte district — where 64 percent of its 3,307 students qualify for free and reduced meals and 10 percent are English language learners — funding per pupil would rise from $6,497 this year to $10,740 if the governor’s proposal were fully implemented. But it may take one to two years for the new formula to be put in place even if it is approved, Deputy Superintendent Rodney Jahn said.

“We’ll probably actually gain funding eventually but not at first,” Jahn said. “We’re in a wait and see mode until the May revise, until we know about what the Legislature may finally approve.”

District officials also won’t know if the governor’s funding proposal will mean more money for Del Norte until they can compare the new formula with the state’s previous funding for categorical programs like the school safety and violence prevention programs, Jahn said.

Two years ago, the state allowed districts to use funds normally restricted for categorical programs for other purposes like paying teachers’ salaries, Jahn said. At that time, the state had only been funding schools at 80 percent of its regular education apportionment and was often late in getting some of that money to districts. The state also wasn’t providing a cost of living adjustment to districts, Jahn said.

Allowing local districts to use restricted funds for unrestricted purposes, helped, Jahn said. But to make the new funding proposal work, the state has discontinued that privilege.

In the meantime, local officials are concerned that the federal sequester — $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that just took effect — could cost the district. Del Norte could lose $220,000 per year in federal revenue, including funding for special education, Jahn said. 

The school district also faces the loss of the Nutrition Network, a $570,000 program that’s funded through the California Department of Public Health and is scheduled to be discontinued in September, Jahn said. The program provides nutrition education in the classroom and consists of 12 positions within the school district that will be eliminated when the funding stops.

Brown’s new funding model could also mean more money for local charter schools. Per pupil funding at Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods — where 41 percent of its 34 students qualify for free and reduced meals — would increase from $6,378 this year to $9,750 once the governor’s proposal is fully implemented.

A per-pupil funding increase would be beneficial to everyone, said KRECR Director Bernadette Johnson. But what would really help is if the state restores schools‘ deferred funding, she said.

“In our case, about $200,000 of our revenue for this year isn’t going to be received until July or August,” Johnson said. “That’s a pattern that has been happening for a long time. It really affects small schools and (some) charter schools don’t have cash reserves.”

The KRECR board has closed its Klamath site, reduced staff pay and discontinued health benefits to close a $168,000 deficit for the 2012-13 school year, Johnson said. The school still has an $84,000 deficit for the current school year.

“Reading up on (Brown’s) statements and his plan, it all sounds great and I agree with his reasoning behind the decisions he’s trying to push forward,” she said. “But you’re always wondering, is it really going to happen?”

For Uncharted Shores Academy — where 45 percent of its 118 students qualify for free and reduced meals and 1 percent are English language learners — funding per-pupil would rise from $5,908 this year to $8,917 if the governor’s proposal is fully implemented. But Educational Director Margie Rouge said after so many disappointments, she’s not too hopeful.

A drop in student enrollment this year, and an anticipated drop in funding, prompted USA to reduce its teaching staff, Rouge said. The school also cut its budget for school supplies and new curriculum, she said. Rouge said she likes the idea of funding schools based on the percentage of low-income students.

“Our whole county, all of the schools, need this,” she said. “It would be a real help to us.”

Under the governor’s new funding model, per-pupil funding at Castle Rock Charter School, which is run by the County Office of Education, could increase from $6,384 this year to $10,181.

Fifty-percent of Castle Rock’s 355 students qualify for free and reduced meals while 4 percent are English language learners.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 


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