Local education officials wary of funding changes in governor's budget proposal

School officials in Glendale and Burbank are awaiting more details on Gov. Jerry Brown’s new budget before passing judgment, pointing out that the spending plan includes major changes to how districts will get funding for the first time in decades.

That’s because with an entirely new funding formula in place, neither district knows how the proposed budget will impact local schools.

For Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan, the new language seemed to favor Glendale in some areas but not so much in others.

“I don’t want to say it’s a shell game, but we’ll figure it out,” Sheehan said during a school board meeting this week.

The draft outlines $400 million for energy efficiency projects and a 1.65% cost of living increase statewide. And the amount of money schools receive for each student they serve would increase next year for the first time in five years.

Perhaps the larger overall change, though, will be how state money flows to districts — the first amendment to a formula put in place in 1972.

After reviewing the budget, Burbank Unified’s assistant superintendent of administrative services, Christine Statton, likened it to learning a new language, she said during a school board meeting on Thursday.

Whereas the state previously paid districts according to a cost of living and a base amount of money schools received per student they served, more factors could now come into play.

This time, base funding could vary at different grade levels according to how many English language learners districts have, how many foster children there are and many students receive free or reduced lunches. Districts could earn 35% more per student in those groups.

With 12 new steps to calculating each district’s funding formula, the state’s debt to schools would theoretically be swept clean, officials said.

“I’m sure that has some of the reasoning behind his new formula,” Statton said.

Burbank Unified school board President Larry Applebaum, though, expressed some doubts.

“I also see this as a mechanism of trying to confuse what was very clear,” he said.

School officials said more details pertaining to districts would be revealed in February.

Both districts would then revise their budgets in spring, but local education officials — still burdened by steep deficits — aren’t holding their breath.

“We really don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the day with the Legislature other than some form of this,” said Eva Lueck, chief business and financial officer for Glendale Unified.

In Burbank, Supt. Jan Britz has said the district is deficit-spending in its routine operations and could face more staff reductions in the future.

In Glendale, officials are offering early retirement incentives in the hope more teachers with greater seniority choose to retire as a way of reducing the number of lay-off notices that are expected to be issued later this year.

-- Kelly Corrigan, Times Community News

Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan


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