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Tuesday, June 13, 2006 | Numbers with too many commas and zeroes make budget discussions a real yawner. Although finance and budget directors are reluctant to boil down large numbers into a per-pupil figure – mostly because there are so many variables that make the exercise an inexact science at best – it’s still helpful when trying to get a handle, in general terms, on what these large numbers mean for each student.

Use the following data to break down the state’s large numbers, for both ongoing and one-time allocations:

  • about 6.4 million K-12 students in the state, to calculate per-pupil
  • about 490,000 students in each of the 13 grades, to calculate per-grade-level
  • about 500,000 K-12 students in San Diego County (about 7.8 percent of the statewide total), to calculate county amounts

According to the state’s Web site – and information from California’s Deputy Secretary of Education Scott Himelstein – major ongoing funding for 2006-2007 not provided last year includes:

  • $300 million for deficit reduction and cost of living ($46.87 per pupil)
  • $200 million to help equalize the funding disparity among school districts ($31.25 per pupil)
  • $200 million for additional school counselors in grades 7-12 ($68.03 per pupil in grades 7-12)
  • $166 million for arts and music ($25.94 per pupil)
  • $133 million for mandated requirements like annual testing and assessment programs ($20.78 per pupil)
  • $100 million for teachers and principals ($15.62 per pupil)
  • $100 million to recruit and train teachers to work in schools scoring in the lowest 30 percent of all schools statewide on academic performance tests ($15.62 per pupil)
  • $85 million for physical education programs in grades K-8 ($19.27 per pupil in grades K-8)
  • $65 million for the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program for low-performing schools ($10.15 per pupil)
  • $40 million to help students pass the high school exit exam ($408.16 per pupil, calculated based upon 10 percent of students in grades 11 and 12)

“The ongoing monies go to things very important to school districts such as the cost of living allowance, which is 5.9 percent, and we are fully funding that,” Himelstein said.

Scott Patterson and Lora Duzyk are both pleased about the COLA money. “Fully funding COLA is great,” said Duzyk, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services for the San Diego County Office of Education. Patterson, who this week assumed the position of Deputy Superintendent of Business Services for the Grossmont Union High School District, was the Chief Financial Officer for San Diego City Schools.

Because school districts are all funded differently based on complicated state funding formulas, Duzyk also likes the $200 million set aside for equalization, which will close the gap between lower-funded and higher-funded districts.

“We are going a long way toward providing equalization for school districts, which is something they have wanted for a long time,” Himelstein said.

Himelstein said the $200 million to add more counselors for middle and high school students is critical, and should help reduce a dreadful statewide average of 950 counselors for every student in grades 7 through 12. He said the recommendation from the state is 250 to 1.

“We want to take the ratio in middle school and make it 500 to 1,” he said. “In high school, we want to take the ratio to 300 to 1.”

Although Patterson called this a great idea and said he would never turn dollars away, he opposes having this money come to districts with restrictions on how it can be used. He said San Diego City Schools lets each site make its own decisions about how to spend a large portion of their funding. “We try to balance local control with district oversight,” he said.

He said the schools that have already applied their dollars to reduce their counselor ratio cannot suddenly decide to re-assign that money to another program like P.E. or music in order to substitute the state’s counselor money for their own. “You can’t go back,” Patterson said.

Superintendents sometimes prefer categorical funding over unrestricted money because that money cannot be made available for teacher salary increases, although you won’t find many superintendents willing to state this on the record. But Patterson said the money could still be given to districts in a more general categorical manner – just not so specific.

“I can’t argue with it conceptually,” Patterson said, about money tied to specific categorical programs like counselors, P.E., art and music. “But we are always more interested in unrestricted funding.”

Duzyk agreed, saying, “Our preference is to [get] unrestricted dollars,” she said. “Although we would never turn down the money, we prefer that the decisions be left with local districts.”

In the case of arts and music, Himelstein said the governor was allocating $166 million, specifically. “But we’re not going to tell districts how to spend it as long as you spend it for those purposes,” he said. “We think that local superintendents and local boards should be able to make their own decisions on whether you want another music class or whether you want to expand another great arts program that you have.”

He said this money translates into $25 per student. “A district and a school can really do something with that,” he said.

Himelstein said the governor is emphasizing art, music and P.E. in education this year. “For the last 20 years or so…people have had to make tough budget decisions based on lean times,” he said. “The revenues are up, and the governor thinks it is very important that kids get a well-rounded education.”

According to Himelstein, the governor and the legislature are reluctant to create more categoricals. “Obviously, you’ve got a couple of priorities like art, music and P.E., but on the whole I think there’s a trend for less categoricals,” he said. “I think it’s important to the governor to send a lot of this money down without strings and hold people accountable, yet let them decide how they’re going to get to the end.”

One-time funding

Another category of money coming to districts this fall will be one-time funding, which includes:

  • $800 million (or $650 million, depending upon whom you talk to) for claims filed with the state for unfunded mandates from past years ($125, or $101.56, per pupil)
  • $400 million for teachers to buy classroom supplies and materials, which translates to about $1,200 per teacher ($62.50 per pupil)
  • $250 million for instructional materials ($39.06 per pupil)
  • $250 million for arts and music equipment and supplies ($39.06 per pupil)
  • $250 million for P.E. equipment and supplies ($39.06 per pupil)
  • $75 million for classroom and school libraries ($11.72 per pupil)
  • $50 million for career and technical (vocational) equipment and materials ($25.51 per pupil in grades 9-12)

Duzyk said the largest unfunded mandates for school districts include collective bargaining, special education and testing and assessment programs. Many districts have filed claims with the state for reimbursement of mandated programs in past years, but few have seen any money as a result. This one-time money will pay back past claims, and the ongoing $133 million will fund annual mandates.

“The state figured that [$133 million] would be enough,” Duzyk said, a bit skeptically.

Himelstein said the money allocated to offset the mandated programs is huge. “Those are very green dollars to districts,” he said.

The $400 million for classroom and lab supplies will go directly to teachers to the tune of about $1,200 per teacher, Himelstein said. “I think it’s generally recognized that most teachers dip into their own pockets for classroom supplies,” he said. “What will this do for teachers in San Diego to have $1,200 to buy classroom supplies? That’s a lot of money for them.”

“I love that one,” Patterson said. “Teachers do dig into their own pockets. I’m excited about that.”

Most of the money in education goes toward salaries and benefits. At San Diego City Schools, about 50 percent of its budget from 2005-2006, which totaled $1.13 billion, was spent on certificated teachers, and 30 percent was spent on classified employees. The other 20 percent, according to Patterson, went for instructional materials, supplies, utilities, other operating costs and reserves.

Of all the categoricals statewide, special education is by far the biggest expense – $3 billion is proposed for 2006-2007. This translates into about $234 million in San Diego County, which equals $468.75 per pupil.

The second highest expense is the kindergarten through third-grade class size reduction program, which last year cost the state $1.676 billion – or about $262 per pupil.

The $1 billion teacher’s retirement system costs each student in the state $156.

Bass-ackwards

The governor’s proposal is now with the legislature for approval. “I’m sure there will be a little bit of tinkering there, but so far it’s really been received well,” Himelstein said. “I think that we can expect that it will largely remain intact.”

Theoretically, the state budget must be approved by July 1, and the money is made available to schools in the fall.

But school districts have to adopt their budgets in June before the state approves its budget. “It’s bass-ackwards,” Patterson said. “They miss their July 1 deadline repeatedly. We need to have it all buttoned up by the board meeting [in late June].”

Patterson is hopeful about this year’s budget, however. “This one actually has got a shot at coming in on time – maybe in mid-July,” he said.

“We commend the governor for making a huge commitment to education,” said Steve O’Mara, of EdVoice, a nonprofit organization that monitors and promotes sensible education policy for California.

But funding isn’t everything. “All too often, the rhetoric is only about how much we spend,” O’Mara said, in an email. “We too are culpable of promoting that at times, largely because we truly don’t provide enough for education. The reality is how money is spent is just as important as how much we provide.”

According to O’Mara, “There are shortcomings in our current system that disadvantage certain students, too often the children who most need our help. We need to make resource allocations transparent, including site level expenditures that can be evaluated statewide. We then need to make sure that money follows the kids. We need to provide larger increases for students with greater needs. Lastly…we should maximize discretionary funding so schools can put resources where they’re needed most.”

Himelstein defended the budget, saying, “On the ground here in San Diego, it’s going to make a tremendous difference. We’re not talking about a little bit of money. These are large amounts of money that people can actually do things with.

“Overall, it’s going to be a really good year for education in San Diego, because there are significant resources to do things that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’ve watched all of our local districts have to make tough budget choices – [cutting] everything from reading specialists to science labs.

“Money is coming to get us not all the way back but a good way back to some previous levels. Teachers will really feel this. Parents will be able to really see this in their kids’ classrooms. For us it’s a good time.”

https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/articles/2006/06/12/opinion/02edbudget.txt “target=”_blank”>Read Part One.

Marsha Sutton writes about education and children’s issues. She can be reached at marsha.sutton@voiceofsandiego.org. Or write a letter to the editor.

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