There’s Some Optimism In The School Budget
Proposition 30 Money Provides Help
Maybe it was because a number of high school students were present to cover the Tuesday night Culver City School Board meeting for their civics requirement, but Mike Reynolds’ presentation on the 2012-2013 budget and how newly passed Prop 30 will affect it was remarkably easy to understand.
Reynolds, who became the Culver City School District’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Services last month, outlined the history of the District’s budget in terms that students (and most adults) could quickly absorb, using PowerPoint slide visuals with yellow “smiley” and “frowning” faces to represent economic ups and downs.
“In the ‘good old days’ we would go to City Hall or the county to seek an adequate portion of our local tax collections to operate our schools,” Reynolds explained. “We’d work out how much was available from the taxes collected to pay off teachers and provide you with books. The treasurer would say ‘We have so much…’ and we’d say ‘Thank you.’ ”
Reynolds went on to talk about the “taxpayer revolt” in the form of 1978’s Proposition 13, which resulted in lower property taxes and also resulted in Sacramento taking over the burden of providing operating funds to the public schools.
With school funds coming from the state, fluctuations from year to year were common, depending on the economy. This meant that some years were good, some not so good, and some were “horrible” (this is where the PowerPoint slides featured the smile and frown faces).
“This year, Sacramento tried to compensate by building a budget with the assumption that Prop 30 would pass. It did,” said Reynolds.
The passage of Prop 30 meant the schools were spared a reduction in funds of $441 per student. For Culver City, it prevented a reduction in funds of $2.9 million.
Reynolds outlined the things that the school budget covers: 80 percent of the annual budget goes to teachers’ and staff salaries; money also goes for books and educational materials, utilities, maintenance, and capital projects such as renovation of school facilities (at present, capital projects for the Culver City District include installation of solar panels, installation of elevators, improvements to the athletic fields, and renovation of Robert Frost Auditorium at the high school).
In the interest of “transparency,” always a cited goal of the School Board, Reynolds distributed to the students and others in the audience a chart of the 2012-2013 budget revenues and expenditures.
This chart showed a projected budget of $53,333,923 with projected expenditures of $55,591,726. The difference (deficit) is more than two million.
A student immediately had a question: were these numbers a reflection of the budget with the projected Prop 30 funds or had they been done before the proposition passed?
“That’s a good question,” said Reynolds. He explained that the projections had been made without the knowledge of what the District would have with Prop 30 funds but “We are able to spend two million more because we started with some money put aside in reserves.”
He then explained how the District has various reserve funds that can be tapped into for “rainy days.” These include some funds that are “categorically restricted,” i.e. they can only be used for a specific purpose, as well as other funds that can be used for any purpose, and also some funds that can only be used one time.
As for the future-Reynolds stated that the passage of Prop 30 suggests that “there is a high level of support for public education.” Legislative analysts’ reports project that despite fluctuations in the economy, the school budget should be safe from economic impacts this year. If school districts continue to build their budgets, with help from local advisory committees, the future might look “rosy” for schools.
Board members sounded some notes of caution, not wanting to paint too rosy a picture given the economic foundering of the last few years. Board member Patricia Siever insisted that representatives from oversight groups and the advisory committee must make frequent reports to the Board.
Audience member Janet Chabola asked Reynolds about the money from Measure EE, a local sales tax initiative that is due to expire in 2015.
“We need to let people know that it is expiring,” said Reynolds, ”and let them know how the money is being spent. The Board can put another measure on the ballot to renew it.”
The students appeared to enjoy Reynolds’ presentation and the way he respected their participation during the Q and A period. However, they seemed bewildered when he compared one-time reserve funds to “allowances” from one’s parents.
“You get an allowance, you spend it, that’s it,” was the comparison Reynolds was using. But then, seeing the students’ looks of puzzlement, he wondered: “Do any of you get an allowance? No?”
It seemed they did not. “Tell your parents about allowances,” said Reynolds.
Board member Laura Chardiet laughed. “They have debit cards! They don’t need allowances.”