By Marsha Sutton
Several items on the May 17 agenda for the Solana Beach School District board meeting involved financial decisions regarding the district’s seventh school, a loan from the county, and discretionary spending of funds for categorical programs.
The first action item concerned an agreement signed June 28, 2011, between the district and Pardee Homes regarding School No. 7 in Pacific Highlands Ranch. Since then, the parties met and negotiated an amendment to the original agreement, which involved the property purchase for the school and escrow instructions.
The May 17 action item authorized the SBSD superintendent or her designee to submit the First Amendment into escrow and proceed with closing escrow.
SBSD superintendent Nancy Lynch said escrow will not close on School No. 7 until after the San Diego City Council takes action on June 12 on an item to reduce the Pacific Highlands Ranch Public Facilities Financing Plan and Facilities Benefit Assessment. Escrow will close 10 days after the mayor approves or vetoes the item.
“The final purchase price of the property is dependent on the action of the city council,” Lynch said in an email. “The appraisal, if the measure passes, will be $19,875,000, and if it does not pass will be $16,995,000. The Pro-Forma Value, or amount to be paid for this purchase is $8,248,048. The balance will be paid once it is determined if another school will need to be built in the same area.”
Once escrow is closed, the district will announce the expected school opening date, she said.
The school board also approved an amendment to a Memorandum of Understanding regarding financing of School #7, agreed to by the district and Pardee Homes in 2004.
This First Amendment to the 2004 MOU updates the sequencing of payments and how the bond structuring would be implemented, Lynch said.
Loan from county
The board also approved a resolution requesting a temporary transfer of funds from the San Diego County treasurer’s office.
“This is a ‘safety net’ option that protects the district in case of a cash flow shortage,” Lynch said. “This resolution is annually brought to the board for approval. It allows the district to temporarily borrow funds against future property tax collections from the county treasury.”
Lynch described it as “more like a property tax ‘advance’” and said the district has not participated in this program in the last few years.
“The district,” she said, “is allowed to request up to 17 percent of estimated future property tax collections if the request is made any time before August 31 or up to 85 percent any time after August 31. The going rate for such an advance is whatever the county treasury interest rate is at the time of the advance.”
The district is requesting just over $4.7 million for the period of July 1 through Aug. 31, and $23.7 million after Aug. 31. The total estimated amount of tax money the SBSD expects to receive for the 2012-2013 fiscal year is about $27.9 million, same as last year.
The purpose for the request, the resolution reads, is “to provide funds for meeting obligations incurred for maintenance purposes.”
Dan McAllister, San Diego County Treasurer, said in an email, “In good times when tax receipts are flowing well and all is better on the financial front for local school districts, the loans are very rare. As the economy has stayed down and property values have declined, the taxes needed to fund school districts have also slowed.
“This, combined with the state legislature’s inability to pass timely budgets, has placed many school districts in a cash flow bind. Thus, many have begun to turn to the concept of treasurer’s loans to help them weather the difficult economic times.”
Flexible use of funding
Funding for categorical programs classified as Tier III has been given greater flexibility in the last few years, to allow districts more flexible ways to apply money formerly restricted for use only on specific programs.
Tier III funding flexibility is available for the 2008-2009 through the 2014-2015 years, but must be approved each year by each district’s Board of Education.
“As a condition of receiving Tier III program funds, the board must annually hold a public hearing to take testimony from the public on the proposed use of the funds,” Lynch said.
The Solana Beach School District is seeking funding flexibility for 12 Tier III categorical programs.
The highest funded programs include: Targeted Instructional Improvement Grant ($717,648), School and Library Block Grant ($234,426), Instructional Materials ($126,823), and Deferred Maintenance ($115,005). Combined with the other eight, the total is just over $1.5 million.
The district proposes to use most of the $1.5 million to pay the state its “Fair Share” liability, which is the amount each Basic Aid district is being assessed by the state to equal the proportional cuts in money from the state that non-Basic Aid districts have been forced to give up.
Basic Aid districts, about 10 percent of the state’s total, receive the bulk of their money from local property taxes rather than directly from Sacramento like the other 90 percent.
“Since these [Tier III] funds are flexible and the district carries a Fair Share liability, administration recommends to the board that the funds be used to pay for the liability,” Lynch said. The board approved the recommendation.
The estimated Fair Share liability is up to 90 percent of these funds, including funding for the K-3 Class Size Reduction program, she said.
“Any funds left after the payment of the Fair Share liability are rolled to the general fund to help fund other educational programs,” Lynch said. “Even though the mandates for these programs have been flexed, we still provide the programs in which these funds are intended.”