About this site

I was a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. This site was originally used for the purpose of communicating with school district constituents, however now it is used for surfacing ideas and expressing opinions on various subjects in education, politics, business, or otherwise.

Please note that any opinion express here is purely personal and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of anyone else or any organization with which I am, or have been, associated.

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March 2012
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A Weighty Formula

The state budget remains as uncertain as when the Governor first proposed his version in January. Although most of the press has been around the dependency upon his proposed tax measure in November and now the possibility of having up to three different tax measures on the ballot, the part of his proposal that may have a greater effect on San Carlos is the concept of the new, weighted formula for school funding.

In concept, the weighted formula makes a whole lot of sense — give additional funding to schools where the need is greatest, specifically ones with high percentages of English learners and higher levels of poverty. As a matter of public policy, schools in East Palo Alto should get more funding than those in Menlo Park (ironically, because Menlo Park is a Basic Aid district, it gets a ton more than EPA). An article from School Services of California explains how this weighted formula would work. But here’s the rub…unless there is a net influx of more money to public education, any change in funding methodology is just a re-distribution in a zero-sum game. That means some districts would lose additional funding (on top of the approx. 20% cuts already taken over the last four years).

Guess what? Under the governor’s proposal, San Carlos would be one of those losers, and big time. We are in the relatively unique position of being both a low-funded Revenue Limit district but with a low percentage of English Learners (~9%) and students on Free/Reduced Lunch (~6%). That means we’re caught in the middle between those highly funded Basic Aid districts (e.g. Menlo Park, Los Altos, etc.) and Revenue Limit districts which would see additional funding from the new weights (e.g. Redwood City, Ravenswood, etc.). According to our own administration’s preliminary calculation, we could stand to lose another $2 million dollars per year! That would be unthinkable! The Governor’s proposal does have a one-year “hold harmless” provision and then phases the new formula in over five years, so the impact would happen over time. Clearly, the Governor’s office is counting on a rebound to the economy which would increase the overall funding in a hope to offset any cuts some districts may take (as you can see in our analysis, if there are indeed increases to education funding over the next five years, the net effect could be flat funding for us — and that is best case scenario!)

I spent time on the phone with some state senatorial staff in Sacrament to get their take on what’s going on. Fortunately, we weren’t the first to discover this flaw, so a lot of our state representatives aren’t happy about the Governor’s proposal, even though many of them — like I — agree with the concept. Specifically, there are two other issues being bandied around Sacramento. The first is extending the “hold harmless” provision either longer or permanently — that would mean that no matter the formula, our revenue couldn’t be cut. The second is introducing the idea of including a “cost of living” adjustment in the weighting. In principle, this is very logical — with 80%+ of all expenses going to people, districts in higher cost areas must pay more to get equivalent employees as districts in lower cost areas. It costs a lot more to live in San Carlos than it does in Fresno. (For many districts, the local cost of living is a greater expense driver than the nature of the student population). So, if such a variable is introduced, that would certainly help us and also be consistent with a sense of fairness. But the original rub remains — if it is still a zero sum game, then aren’t we just shuffling the same money around? Maybe San Carlos won’t lose as much, but now others will. It may be both bad policy as well as politically impractical.

So what does all this mean? More uncertainty, of course. Like most years, the state is unlikely to pass it’s budget by the time we are required to in June, and of course we won’t know the outcome of the multiple state tax measures until November. I know our Superintendent and School Board are focused on where we can make additional investments to support teaching and learning, and specifically our growing momentum behind 21st Century Learning. But unfortunately all of this will have to be done in the context of having very little information and control over our financial destiny.

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