Education Matters: Clearing up LCFF confusion

The portion of last week’s column that discussed the Local Control Funding Formula money received by the San Dieguito Union High School District was incomplete, somewhat confusing and requires further elaboration.

I may have opinions on how districts should spend their money, but those opinions need to be based on clearly stated facts.

Given the healthy financial position of the district, I still maintain that more money should be allocated to programs, services and supplies that are currently parent-funded.

Nevertheless, I admit my prior LCFF discussion was less than clear. Mea culpa. Let me try again.

According to California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, the LCFF legislation, enacted in 2013-2014, provides California school districts with “significant increases in funding.”

The purpose was to give local districts more control over their state funding, with the over-arching goal to target high-need students as well as to increase student success for all categories of pupils.

There are three components of the LCFF grants: Base Grant, Supplemental Grant and Concentration Grant.

San Dieguito does not qualify for Concentration Grants which are awarded to school districts with more than 55 percent of their student population classified as high need (low income, English learners, foster youth).

Eric Dill, SDUHSD’s interim superintendent, said last year that the district’s total LCFF for 2015-2016 was about $95.9 million. About $94.3 million was the Base Grant and about $1.6 million was the Supplemental Grant.

Supplemental Grant money is 20 percent more above the base and is granted for every high-need student, to be used to meet their particular needs.

The column last week included a quote from State Assembly woman Shirley Weber disagreeing with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s interpretation of the law when he said the grant money could be used for salary increases.

Although the context was unclear, Weber was likely referring to Supplemental and Concentration Grant money, not the Base Grant.

Base Grant

The Base Grant includes the base rate, plus an extra 2.6 percent for all ninth-to-12th-grade students, based on Average Daily Attendance, at a rate of about $216 per ADA.

San Dieguito’s 8,300 students in grades 9-12, multiplied by $216, equals about $1.8 million.

So the district’s 2015-2016 Base Grant of $94.3 million includes about $1.8 million of the 2.6-percent “extra” money.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the additional income for high schools “is not designated for any particular activity, but the genesis of the adjustment relate[s] to the costs of providing career technical education (CTE) in high school.”

The LAO report states that the $216 per ADA “reflects the average total amount spent per pupil on Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs)” under the previous funding system.

Many districts, Dill said, cut their CTE programs during the recession, and this money was intended to support the re-introduction and expansion of the programs.

But at San Dieguito, he said, CTE classes and programs actually increased in recent years.

“We’ve embedded CTE in the high school curriculum,” he said, noting that the district last year spent about $2.1 million in career and technical education – which is higher than what the state is providing.

Supplemental Grant

The district’s Supplemental Grant money of $1.6 million is intended to target the needs of low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

Dill said these groups of students represent about 10 percent of the district’s pupil enrollment.

The goals for the Supplemental Grant money, Dill said, are to “achieve more, provide more, spend more.” He puts “achieve more” at the top of the list.

Each district, he said, has flexibility in how to reach those goals.

Dill said he disagreed with those who say Supplemental Grant money can’t be used for teacher salaries. But he clarified by adding that San Dieguito has used a portion of that grant money to add new teachers and increase the number of sections to serve those high-need students.

So technically the money is being used for teacher salaries, but it’s to hire additional teachers and not necessarily to pay for raises.

Discretionary

Dill said about 85 percent of the district’s total operating budget goes toward staffing costs, salaries and benefits. The Base Grant of $94.3 million is completely discretionary, he said, and supports this primary expenditure.

According to the LAO, target base rates in the 2013-2014 school year were as follows: $6,845 for grades K-3; $6,947 for grades 4-6; $7,154 for grades 7-8; and $8,289 for grades 9-12. Cost of living adjustments are made yearly.

[As an aside, districts with students in grades K-3 are given an additional 10.4 percent of the base rate (initially $712 per ADA), to reduce class sizes to an average of no more than 24 students per class.]

The main objection to using Base Grant money for salary raises is that it’s essentially paying more for the same level of service, when the intent was to use the money to more directly impact student success.

The LAO identifies eight priority areas for district spending – student achievement, student engagement, other student outcomes (other indicators of student success), school climate, parental involvement, basic services (such as facilities improvements), implementation of Common Core State Standards, and course access.

According to the California Dept. of Education, the state’s Dept. of Finance said it would take about eight years to phase in the LCFF system, at an estimated cost of about $18 billion. Full implementation is predicted to occur in 2020-2021. This is the third year of the LFCC law.

Salary raises

Before your eyes glaze over completely, a few more figures.

Dill said the total budget for 2015-2016 was about $124 million. That’s how much was spent.

The amount of revenue received was about $128 million – so Dill said the district realized a $4 million surplus last year, after a projected $2 million deficit the year before.

Besides the $95.9 million in total LCFF money from the state, San Dieguito also received about $32 million from other sources, including the federal government, more misc. money from the state, and some local revenue from the county.

The raises given to all employees for 2015-2016, Dill said, was just under $6.5 million (teachers about $4 million, classified about $2 million, and management/other staff about $450,000).

For 2016-2017, and moving forward, the total cost of the salary increases is just over $6.5 million. Certificated employees (primarily teachers) account for about $4.8 million, classified about $1.3 million, and management and other employees about $407,000.

It’s mostly the Base Grant money that’s being used to pay for San Dieguito’s controversial $6.5 million yearly salary increase.

Because the cost is so high, it’s fair to question future sustainability.

Time to give parents a break

Looking ahead, Dill feels confident that the district will continue to enjoy a strong financial condition.

“Every budget we bring to the board is worst-case scenario,” he said, adding that the district always budgets conservatively.

He expects rising numbers of teachers to retire in coming years, and replacing highly-paid veteran teachers with new hires is a major cost benefit.

“Districts always capture savings when teachers retire,” he said.

Regarding the LCFF and its “significant increases in funding,” as the LAO report phrased it, Dill said, “Many don’t realize how deeply the funding was cut for education during the recession.”

The increased money has brought a sense of relief to California school districts, and most agree it is long overdue.

“The funding for education is being restored and getting back on track,” Dill said.

There’s no doubt the healthy infusion of cash at last after so many lean years is welcome. The question is whether the new money is being applied appropriately.

There’s now a $4 million surplus, and a 12.5 percent salary raise was awarded to every district employee that amounts to an extra $6.5 million in annual expenses.

Now that the accounting rundown is over, the main point is this: Many educational programs that support the academic and emotional needs of students remain unfunded by the district, left for parents to pick up the slack.

It’s time to give parents a break.

Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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