High school district talks state funds, Prop AA projects at workshop

The San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) board held a budget workshop on March 10, allowing board members to weigh in on their priorities for the upcoming school year. Keeping class sizes low, ensuring campuses are safe and having students fully prepared for the future were high on the board members’ lists.

“Our budget workshop is designed to get a sense of what (the board) is thinking, to put together a 2016-17 budget later this spring that the majority of the board can support,” SDUHSD Superintendent Rick Schmitt said.

The budget will continue to be refined in the coming months and will be presented to the board for adjustments in May, with the final budget approved in June. A facilities workshop will also be held in April as the district moves toward a Prop AA bond sale in early summer.

According to Eric Dill, associate superintendent of business services, in 2016-17 there will be an increase in the amount the district receives from the state from the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), in addition to the one-time funding of $214 per average daily attendance of students (ADA).

LCFF is based on average daily attendance and demographics — the district receives a base grant and a supplemental grant to serve English language learners, foster children and students eligible for free and reduced lunch.

As Dill noted, the base grant can be used for all students but the supplemental grant must be used to improve achievement among low income and English-language learners. All school districts are required to prepare a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which outlines how the district will spend allocated revenue from the state, focusing on the state’s priorities.

This year the district will receive $100 million from the state. The district’s target revenue is $106 million, which represents a $3.5 million gap between the target and what the state will allocate.

At the workshop, Dill went over the budget themes for 2016-17 based on input received from board members and staff on how best to use its funds. Priorities included keeping class sizes low, increasing counselors, additional bell schedules and elective options at La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines, reducing athletic transportation costs, increasing district-funded coaches, more support for the arts and enhanced campus supervision and security measures.

“In terms of class sizes, counselors and bell schedules, we made a commitment to do that,” Schmitt said, noting that they are allocating extra dollars “above and beyond” the regular allocation to add counselors and maintain low class sizes.

Associate Superintendent Michael Grove said last year the district added six counselors district-wide in its attempt to decrease the student-to-counselor ratio. The district has about 8,000 high school students, which results in a ratio of 441 to one for counselors at the high school level.

“That’s still too much,” SDUHSD Trustee Mo Muir said, noting that, at most, the ratio should be 200 to one in order to be effective.

Muir has long advocated for more counselors at the high school level and the fact that more counselors were not reflected in last year’s budget was one of the reasons she voted against it.

SDUHSD Vice President Joyce Dalessandro said she appreciated the district easing more counselors in as the budget allowed — she said expanding the number of counselors and having lower ratios is something that has been important to her for a long time.

Muir also made a recommendation that the district fund a SAT-prep class to raise college readiness instead of having students go outside school and pay for private tutoring.

Grove said they could certainly offer an elective class if there was parent and student interest, however, prep classes are becoming less relevant with the new tests.

“The new SAT and ACT are designed for students to critically think, analytically write and problem solve,” Schmitt said. “It’s less coachable and they’re proud of that.”

“They’ve publicly stated that they want to put the test prep schools out of business,” Grove echoed.

Schmitt said the old curriculum didn’t point students to the ACT and SAT but that is not the case anymore — what students are learning every day in English and math classes are preparing them for the tests.

SDUHSD President Beth Hergesheimer noted that the district does pay for students to take the PSAT.

“Our kids did spectacularly on the new PSAT in the fall, better than anyone else in the county, over and above success that they used to have on the PSAT and we’ve never had more National Merit finalists,” Schmitt said.

If there is interest, Muir said she would still like to see a test prep class offered, as it is in districts such as the Sweetwater Union High School District.

“This is something that could reach all the kids and create academic parity,” Muir said.

On the topic of security, SDUHSD Board Member John Salazar suggested increasing campus supervision, adding an extra pair of eyes on a golf cart. He said he also felt that adding security cameras would be a good use of funds to help prevent certain behaviors from occurring on school campuses.

On the suggestion for more district-funded coaches, Dill said at the high school level there are 344 coaches and the district pays for 182 of them, a total of $1.4 million out of the general fund. The cost for the remainder of coaches comes from funds raised by parent foundations and boosters.

“Our kids and families have a high expectation for the quality of our programs, we have to find a balance of what is reasonable,” Grove said.

At the workshop, Dill also went over facilities goals and potential improvements.

The district has issued $277 million in Prop AA funds since 2013 and is preparing for its next bond issuance of $62 million this summer. The next issuance will be similar to the last two bond draws, with 25-year terms, no capital appreciation bond and holding within the tax rate of $25 per $100,0000 assessed value.

The $62 million bond draw will include projects such as a new classroom building at Canyon Crest Academy, the long-awaited performing arts center at Torrey Pines, upgraded science classrooms at Oak Crest and Diegueno Middle Schools, and a second classroom building at Pacific Trails Middle to handle potential increased enrollment.

The district is also considering several projects that can be funded by Community Facilities Districts (CFDs). Dill said developments since 2008 have created the capacity for $18.3 million in new bonds that can be called in 2018 if the interest rates are favorable.

Potential CFD-funded projects would include improved circulation at Torrey Pines, field lighting at Canyon Crest, field renovation at Carmel Valley Middle School and solar projects at Earl Warren, Diegueno and Oak Crest.

Each site has also requested smaller facilities projects for 2016-17; items such as replacement furniture, new shade structures and upgrades for sports facilities like baseball field netting and tennis court improvements.

Dill said those projects can be funded through the general fund, developer fees and facilities use revenue.

Dill said the district could be in line for more potential revenue due to the Public Education Facilities Bond Initiative, which is eligible for the November ballot. The measure would authorize the issuance and sale of $9 billion in bonds for California schools. Dill said if the state bond passes, the district could gain an additional $35 million for school projects.