As other school districts hand out pink slips to warn teachers they may lose their jobs at the end of the school year, and as cities close down schools for lack of funds, Laguna Beach has sailed past the “Ides of March" with its faculty and budget watertight and sound.
For the second year in a row, this district won’t have to eliminate arts, music or other “extra" activities that give students a more meaningful school career, or cut into core curriculum.
How is it that Laguna Beach Unified is able to stay financially afloat while most other districts are awash in a sea of red ink?
It’s not just because this district has a different revenue stream: As a so-called Basic Aid district, Laguna’s schools are funded directly by the property taxes collected within the district. And the district’s tax base is solid. Laguna Beach property values did not plummet the way other cities’ have over the past two years during this devastating economic slump. The district also includes high-end real estate in Newport Coast and parts of Aliso Viejo that also fared well.
This district is also fortunate to have a fundraising arm, SchoolPower, which is dedicated to making sure teachers and students get the “extras" and education gets a boost. While the school year started out a bit rocky for SchoolPower, the donations are coming back and the organization is on track to meet its commitments to the district.
That’s not the case in most of the state’s schools. The state as a whole is drowning in red ink, with property taxes falling off the past two years. This has dramatically reduced the amount of money available for the public schools that rely on pooled resources. Even the voter-approved measure enacted several years ago requiring that 30% of the state budget be earmarked for education can’t salvage the situation: The pie is simply smaller.
Yet, this is a district that went through a financial crisis some years ago and made changes.
Despite its advantages, Laguna school officials should be congratulated for keeping a steady hand on the tiller in times when revenues were flush. A large reserve has been accumulated in case of need. This is a district that knows what can happen when revenues drop and spending doesn’t.
Laguna Unified learned its lesson well.