The dust continues to settle given the results of last week’s election. The passage of Proposition 30 brings some measure of immediate relief to school districts throughout California, but it also creates an unprecedented urgency for pervasive communication and messaging from local districts — because the financial problems facing our schools have only been mitigated, not eliminated.
No new funds for La Cañada schools
The marketing campaign from Sacramento associated with Proposition 30 was oversold to the public. It claimed to “fix” the problems with districts’ budgets and the crisis we have been facing for five years regarding school finance in California. That is simply not the case.
The passage of Proposition 30 prevents a $455 cut per student in the current school year and subsequent years projected until 2015-2016. With La Cañada Unified School District’s current enrollment at 4,117, we averted an annual cut of over $1.8 million. However, Proposition 30 provides no new dollars for schools. Instead of additional massive cuts, we are instead faced with a flat funding reality, the same level of funding we received in 2011-2012, which we all know was inadequate.
Cuts absorbed here for five consecutive years
“Flat funding” means current year funding at $557 per pupil below the levels La Cañada Unified saw in 2007–2008. This equates to a current $2.2 million dollar cut to revenues from those the district received five years ago, before the onslaught of Sacramento cuts. If you total the cumulative per pupil reductions since 2007-2008 they equal $2,716 per student — $10.8 million of actual cuts to our schools. In terms of comprehensive revenue reductions, not just dollars we were cut but dollars we should have received from statutorily anticipated cost-of-living adjustments, the district has lost more than $20 million in funding since 2007-2008.
Deficit spending for the foreseeable future
What these levels of cuts create in the district’s budget is a structural deficit. La Cañada Unified has done better than most districts thanks to the stewardship of the governing board; the generosity of our parents and community members in the form of gifts to the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation; parent-teacher associations and specialized support groups at the school sites; the community of La Cañada Flintridge’s voter-approved 2009 parcel tax; the concessions by our labor associations — the La Cañada Teachers’ Assn. and the California State Employees’ Assn.; and the ongoing budget-reduction strategies implemented by management staff over the past five years. But a structural deficit — by its very nature — results in deficit spending. In our budget’s multiyear projections the district is deficit spending over $547,000 in 2012-2013; $629,000 in 2013-2014; and $1.7 million in 2014-2015, the first school year without the parcel tax.
No easy fixes
So, while Proposition 30 spared La Cañada Unified more than $1.8 million in annual and ongoing additional cuts, it did not “fix” our district’s funding problem. To actually solve the problem it will take a level of communication, transparency and community involvement the likes of which we have never seen. You have my commitment to that charge. I am also keenly sensitive to the fact that the effects of Proposition 30, namely its increases to sales tax and personal income tax, will hit the people of La Cañada Flintridge harder than most communities. Additionally, over the past five years, our parents and community members have been supporting our schools at unprecedented levels. Whether it has been through increased donations to the Foundation, to school support groups, or via the parcel tax, the community has stepped up to the plate and provided local support to the district, allowing us to maintain our schools and their programs at its high levels of quality. The reality that Proposition 30 has not “fixed” the short- or long-term fiscal crisis the district faces will likely be an unpopular one, but hopefully one that we can message and solve together — as a community united in placing its children and the quality of their education first.
WENDY SINNETTE is the La Cañada Unified School District’s superintendent of schools. She can be reached at WSinnette@lcusd.net.