School board okays budget

School board okays budget

Michele Ellson
Wood-ACLC protest

Parents protest the school board's approval of a plan to move the Alameda Community Learning Center onto the Wood Middle School campus.

Alameda’s Board of Education okayed a new budget Tuesday that reflects an increase in state funding for the first time in years – though not a complete restoration of funding to the levels the district would have seen if the economy hadn’t crashed.

The budget approved by the board, on a 4-1 vote, will see the district pulling in $86 million in revenues – including $6 million more from the state than the district budgeted for this year – and spending close to $93 million for 2013-2014.

“The good news is, our funding is starting to go back in right direction,” Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said.

Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer voted against approving the budget, saying she lacked information on reduction in the number of foreign exchange students the district will take and on possible refunds of the Measure H parcel tax.

Even so, the district may need to consider some short-term loans next year to address cash flow issues that could result from state funding deferrals that have not yet been repaid. State lawmakers agreed to pay back $4.3 billion of $10.5 billion in deferred payments to school and community college districts this year, but Shemwell said the repayment schedule hasn’t yet been released, and it wasn’t clear how much the district is in line to receive.

Shemwell said the district had been receiving 60 to 70 cents for every dollar the state was supposed to pay, an amount that will grow closer to 90 cents on the dollar for this year. State funding accounts for about three-quarters of Alameda Unified’s revenues, a budget presentation offered Monday shows.

Additional information could become available when the district offers a “true-up” budget based on the state’s final budget in August, though Shemwell said he didn’t expect much to change between now and then.

If the state’s revenues had remained stable over the last five years instead of tumbling into freefall, the school district would be receiving about $1,300 more per student than it’s getting now; district staff estimated that Alameda Unified will have lost $25 million over the past several years as a result of budget cuts.

State lawmakers anticipate funding growth that will support a gradual return to the funding school districts received in 2007-2008, the year before the cuts and deferrals began. But one longtime schools trustee, Mike McMahon, questioned whether those projections are realistic.

The district may also need a short-term loan to address cash shortages, depending on when the state opts to pay the money it owes. District staffers had used money from other funds to cover the shortages in prior years, but Shemwell said they have less cash available to do so this year due to salary increases and the need to squirrel away money to cover as much as $7.4 million in Measure H parcel tax refunds that could be due depending on what the local trial court that must now determine penalties in the case decides.

State lawmakers approved Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed school funding formula changes, collapsing a host of “categorical” programs into a new payment system that offers base per-student grants by grade level with additional funding for school districts that have high concentrations of students from low-income families and English learners. The program, which will be rolled out over eight years, includes a host of new reporting and public input requirements; this year, lawmakers approved an additional $2.1 billion in funding to help pay for it.

Lawmakers also approved spending $1.25 billion to help school districts put the Common Core, a national school standards program, in place. It wasn’t clear Tuesday how much money Alameda Unified could receive to implement the program.

In addition to passing a budget, the board signed off on raises for most of the district’s non-teaching staff. Those raises will cost about $325,000 next year.

Separately, a group of parents lodged a protest in front of City Hall on Tuesday against the board’s June 11 approval of a plan to move the Alameda Community Learning Center onto the Wood Middle School campus.

The parents, some of whom chastised schools leaders for what they said was a lack of transparency regarding the plan along with the district’s plans to move Wood’s special education and transfer students to the new Junior Jets program at Encinal High, said they wanted the board to reconsider its decision regarding the charter school’s move. And they told board members the decision could have implications at the ballot box.

"We can't help but feel that this is another example of poor long-term planning," said parent Jane Grimaldi, who said enrollment at Wood didn't drop as district staffers predicted.

But one of the two board members who voted against it, Barbara Kahn, said the move was a done deal and that the district needed to move forward.