The Davis school board took its first deep look at the freshly remade realm of public school finance on Thursday night, less than three hours after the state Board of Education voted to implement the new Local Control Funding Formula. The formula represents the biggest change to K-12 education funding in California since the early 1970s.
The formula allocates additional resources to support the education of the state’s neediest students — specifically, low-income students, English learners and foster children who are not supported by parents — in an effort to close the achievement gap between California’s more affluent and less affluent students.
At the same time, the funding formula eliminates numerous categorical programs that provided specific funding for specific programs. Now, districts have greater latitude to spend money in ways local school boards believe will be effective, with fewer mandates and restrictions from the state.
As the new plan takes effect, the state also is beginning to restore school funding that was cut or deferred during the budget crisis that began in 2008. In Davis, these cuts were partially offset by local school parcel taxes approved by voters. Even so, class sizes increased across the Davis school district, and teachers have gone without a cost-of-living adjustment since 2008, while costs for medical coverage have risen.
And at the same time, California is transitioning to the new Common Core academic standards, and adopting online testing of students. All of these volatile factors were discussed during Thursday’s school board budget workshop
A group of mothers from Montgomery Elementary — which has Davis’ highest percentage of students who are English learners and come from lower-income households — made a direct plea for more financial support for their school, citing the new funding formula.
“We hope you will consider reducing the number of students in the classroom at our school … (and) our children are especially needy in the area of technology because as parents we do not have the resources to buy a computer, a laptop or a tablet,” the parents said, speaking in Spanish, which was translated for the school board.
“Many of us work cleaning houses, doing landscaping, in fast-food restaurants. … In addition, many families cannot make donations of school supplies to classrooms when teachers request them. … We also believe that it is important to designate a budget (to support) parent involvement.”
Teachers also stated their case. “The cost of living has ballooned,” Berta Baker of Pioneer Elementary told the school board. “My salary (as a veteran teacher) is less than that of my sons,” who work in fields like accounting.
Karl Ronning, a math teacher at Davis High, said teachers have “continued the tradition of excellence” that he experienced as a student in local schools decades ago. “Teachers make it work,” Ronning said. “It is time now that you have the opportunity (due to rising state funding) to alleviate some of the burden (teachers) have had to shoulder.”
Cathy Haskell, former Davis Teachers Association president, added, “It’s time to acknowledge your employees. … We can’t be at the bottom of the list, or what’s ‘left over.’ You need to value the people that have had oversized classes (the last five years). For several years, you haven’t been able to offer compensation … (now) it needs to be on top of your priorities.”
School board president Gina Daleiden was receptive to their pleas. “In order to have a healthy school district, we need to take care of our people,” she said. “These are people who have not had a raise in a very long time.”
And trustee Tim Taylor acknowledged “the lack of electronic access (by parents at Montgomery Elementary” and added, “we need to remember that” when the board is barraged by emails from other campuses asking for help as the state funding situation gradually improves.
Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby, the school district’s top financial officer, emphasized that the funding restoration will be very gradual, and is by no means continuously assured. He said Davis receives $11 million less annually from the state now than it did in 2007-08. Under current projections, Davis won’t be back up to that level until 2020-21, assuming the economic recovery continues.
The parcel taxes will come up for renewal in a few years’ time, and the district faces the additional complication of last year’s court decision requiring such measures to have a uniform rate. The resulting change for Measure C — which charges single-family homes at one rate and apartments and condominiums at a lower rate — would mean a loss of $1.3 million for the district, or a higher annual charge per parcel.
All of these factors will go into the school district’s budget discussions over the next few months.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.