School districts struggling despite huge funding increase

California’s funding of education has gone from $50.4 billion in the fiscal year that ended in 2012 to $74.5 billion for the current fiscal year – a nearly 50 percent increase that’s far above the less than 9 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index over the same span.

Nevertheless, this summer has seen a steady stream of stories from school districts up and down the state warning of tight budgets, coming layoffs and worse. Ron Bennett, CEO of School Services of California, which advises more than 85 percent of the state’s nearly 1,000 districts, told the Bay Area News Group that one-third of districts face deficit spending in the 2018-19 school year and two-thirds do in 2019-20.

The common problem facing all districts is the phased-in cost of the 2014 bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers agreed to a plan in which school districts would increase their contributions by 132 percent from 2014-15 to 2020-21 – picking up 70 percent of the cost of the bailout, with the state general fund and teachers covering the rest. This is accomplished by gradually raising district’s pension contributions from 8.25 percent of teacher pay to 19.1 percent of pay, which sharply increases compensation costs that already go up annually no matter what because California teachers typically get “step” raises of 3.5 percent to 4 percent in 15 of their first 20 years in the classroom.

The next most common problem is declining enrollment. ADA – average daily attendance – is the fundamental formula determining how much money the state gives each school district. While California’s population continues to inch up, in December, its birth rate fell to a historic low. Urban, suburban and rural districts have all been buffeted as a result.

Teacher pay raises add to fiscal stress

Exacerbating these two structural problems is the fact that after the state’s 2008-2012 revenue recession ended, politically powerful local teachers unions won substantial pay raises in many districts.

The most telling example: In the state’s largest district, Los Angeles Unified, United Teachers Los Angeles was given a 10 percent pay raise in 2015.

This has added to budget and management problems that have led one prominent educator, former Long Beach Unified and San Diego Unified Superintendent Carl Cohn, to call for LAUSD to be broken up.

District officials tried to put up a happy front after its 2017-18 budget was adopted last month. But a Los Angeles Times review of long-term spending plans suggested district officials were not taking serious steps to deal with a 2019-20 deficit expected to be more than $400 million. It noted that while L.A. Unified’s enrollment, now 514,000, continues to drop, the district has more administrators than ever.

Similar problems are seen throughout the Golden State.

Once adjusted for district size, Rim of the World Unified in the Lake Arrowhead area of San Bernardino County is in among the worst binds of any district in the medium term. The 2017-18 budget is not expected to run a deficit, but huge cuts are certain in 2018-19, when the six-school district has to deal with a projected $2.1 million deficit, and schools may have to close or consolidate in 2019-20, when a $4.5 million shortfall has been forecast.

In the affluent Silicon Valley, districts are also being pinched. The San Jose Unified School District needs to cut 150 jobs before its 41 schools reopen next month. Cupertino Union School District and its 25 schools, which made $2.6 million in cuts this spring, are sure to need another round of layoffs by next spring, when a $5.6 million deficit is expected.

The Napa Valley Unified School District, facing a $12.4 million shortfall in a $167 million 2017-18 budget, laid off 50 teachers who hadn’t gained tenure yet and eliminated 60 classified positions. Trustees are already warning of even worse cuts in coming years.

Such budget bloodbaths are the norm across California.

One of the relatively few bits of good news on the school finance front comes – unexpectedly – from Washington. After Donald Trump won the White House, some Democrats expected Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress to seek huge cuts in federal education aid to states – especially liberal ones like California.

But EdSource reported in May that the Trump administration’s budget plan would reduce annual federal education funding for the state from about $4 billion to $3.64 billion – a cut of less than 10 percent. The proposed cuts would be proportional – meaning Trump didn’t single out states he lost for less generous treatment.


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  1. Dawn Urbanek
    Dawn Urbanek 24 July, 2017, 09:39

    The State of California uses its public education system; not to educate students (hence 46th in the nation), but to raise tax revenues, promote a particular political agenda and to redistribute wealth. The Local Control Funding formula is unconstitutional on its face because it deprives every student who happens to live in a district that has a low percentage of students who are ELL, Forster Kids and/or receiving Free and reduced lunch of s basic education simply because of where they happen to live, and irrespective of their own wealth ,race and ethnicity. That by definition is invidious discrimination. Here is a slide presentation. The State has stolen $1.56 BILLION (with a ‘B”) from the Capistrano Unified School District alone.

    Reply this comment
  2. Queeg
    Queeg 24 July, 2017, 10:23


    Bend over-

    Reply this comment
  3. Dawn Urbanek
    Dawn Urbanek 24 July, 2017, 11:43

    What people do not understand is that the funding that the States new funding law actually gives to schools is set at 2007-08 levels of funding + inflation NOT TO BE REACHED UNTIL 2021.

    So all of that Surplus money is not going towards “education” it goes to schools in the form of Grants that tell schools how to spend the money- ie- Teacher effectiveness gran must be spent on Professional development. Now our teachers are never in the classroom because they are out doing training- this was a pay back to the CTA who perpetuates the elections of these democrats.

    Another Example- Green Energy Grants- Schider Electric funds Prop 39 when it passes The State gave Capistrano Unified a grant which had to be spent on energy audits- the entire grant went to schnider electric


    The State is engaged in Racketeering

    Reply this comment
  4. Dawn Urbanek
    Dawn Urbanek 24 July, 2017, 11:46

    Here is another example- The State gave grants and forced schools to pay $3000 for electric buses from a Canadian company and the buses can’t even make it across the district – documentation

    So while the State shows more revenue to schools – it is NOT going to educate children or fix and maintain facilities.

    Reply this comment
  5. Sean
    Sean 24 July, 2017, 13:01

    Oh the irony. The CalSTRs retirement reform grandfathered in all the existing education personnel with the savings, accruing 30 years from now, coming from a less generous defined pension plan coupled with a 401K type of plan. The problem is with declines in enrollment and money diverted to pay raises and increased pension payments, the few new teachers in the new, lower cost pension plan will now get pink slips.

    Reply this comment
  6. Ted Stelle, Rusian Plutocrat
    Ted Stelle, Rusian Plutocrat 1 August, 2017, 13:51

    Oh Lord– I have been travelling on a European vacation, I return to find more Trumpian blather on my beloved Watchdog ™ ! Are the tea baggy dull-normal still restless? Is it because even though you’ve seized power you still don’t know how to govern?

    Reply this comment
    • Ulysses Uhaul
      Ulysses Uhaul 2 August, 2017, 10:12

      Welcome back Teddy……we blew out Donkey, Poodle, Eck and a few lesser insane doomers…..not the same anymore…..posters who replaced them are like baby lambs….no direction, no passion….so sad!

      Reply this comment
  7. Calvin Coolidge
    Calvin Coolidge 1 August, 2017, 17:26

    “Bend over” is the most accurate comment above.
    It is also the catchy phrase in the “Richard Lara Gerbil adoption campaign,”
    ….Give a gerbil a home, Bend Over…

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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