On Tuesday, October 10, 2023, BUSD, in partnership with School Services of California, facilitated a Budget Roadshow to share how the state and federal government fund school districts, financial trends within California, funding streams available to the District, and potential impacts to BUSD funding and budget constraints. The event was live-streamed and recorded.
Question & Answer
Why can’t we use the bond funds to fund the District?
A school bond or General Obligation Bond is for school construction. School Districts can only legally use the funds for school facility improvements. School Districts do have the option of asking the community for operational funding through a parcel tax. I believe the Benicia Unified School District has tried to pass a school partial tax three times over the last 20 years, but the community did not approve the tax measure.
What is the process, or why can’t we apply for more one-time funding?
One-time grants are typically generated from money left over from the Department of Finance and the Governor’s Budget. The remaining funds create an ongoing commitment and ongoing Block Grant. One-time grants are not available through an application process; instead, the State of California identifies criteria by which school districts can use the one-time dollars.
Why can’t we spend all the money in the fund balances?
Fund balances are one-time. Here is an analogy: Consider your savings or checking account. You have your salary, and you get your monthly paycheck to pay your bills. The ending fund balance is the leftover balance in your checking or savings account. For school districts, the fund balance is excess money received from the federal and state governments after expenses. Once you use it, it is gone. It is not recurring money that is budgeted each year.
How do excused absences factor into the ADA/funding calculation? What about excused and unexcused tardies?
The District encourages students to attend school daily to maximize their academic and social learning. Although California has a pretty extensive process for following up on missing or tardy students, the state has two buckets: students are present or absent. Whether students attend school for one minute of one day or the entire day, the District receives funding. The District gets approximately $75 of daily revenue when a student arrives on time, one minute after the bell rings, or at lunch.
Declining Enrollment: Why are we experiencing a dramatic decrease in enrollment?
California experienced a significant decline in student enrollment. Pre-pandemic student enrollment numbers included about 6.1 million students. The state experienced a considerable student decline of 200,000 over the next two years. Students were homeschooled, enrolled in private schools, and moved out of state. California experienced state migration due to the affordability of specific communities, including most coastal communities, becoming unaffordable for young families, prompting families to move to Central Valley communities.
Is there a plan or discussion around moving to digital material and textbooks? It seems inefficient to pay for printed materials, considering the cost of printed materials compared to digital materials.
There is little cost differential between a hardback textbook and an online subscription. Our elementary schools all have hardback textbooks to support their learning. The textbook option is a viable option for young students learning to read. At the secondary level, the District does not provide one hardback textbook for every student; the District buys a class set that remains in the classroom and online materials for students to use at home.
California schools are funded or receive a chunk of funding for students showing up. How does that account for, or how do we reconcile that with underprivileged communities who may not have the resources to make it to school every day? It seems like the system is designed to keep the rich schools or districts rich while the underprivileged keep losing funding.
California had an enrollment-based model until the mid-1990s, but the state no longer wanted to fund absent students. Instead, the state wanted to incentivize school districts to encourage student attendance; thus, California switched to an ADA model. California’s current funding formula model is equity-based, and many school districts in large urban areas receive more funding per student basis. Identified school districts receive significantly more funding per student to combat the notion that the students they serve have additional challenges with getting to school and progressing at grade level when you look at the test scores.
Is there a maximum you can have in reserve not to enact a trigger?
No. There’s no maximum amount a District can have in its reserves to trigger a state audit, but school districts must carry a minimum reserve. The minimum reserve is established based on the size of the District. For instance, Los Angeles Unified has 400,000 students, so they are required to have at least a 1% reserve; San Diego Unified, with 120,000 students, is necessary to have a 2% reserve, and most Districts, including Benicia Unified, are required to maintain at least a 3% reserve.
What was the restricted and unrestricted reserve combined? Why did you leave out their restricted reserve?
I didn’t include the restricted budget data in this presentation because restricted fund balances are an accumulation of money that Districts must use for a specific purpose. When you look at restricted federal and state dollars, for instance, the block grants, any unspent federal and state dollars generally will end up in the restricted ending fund balance. Local school districts do not determine the restrictions; the federal and California state governments designate them at their level. If specific strings are attached, local school districts must spend restricted dollars for a particular purpose. The District has to use the money for the intended purpose.