School board okays budget, sans cuts

School board okays budget, sans cuts

Michele Ellson

Video streaming by UstreamAlameda’s Board of Education approved a budget for next year without being forced to contemplate cuts like furloughs, class size increases, shorter school year and others school districts are considering in order to address rising costs and sharp declines in state funding.

“We are lucky in the fact that we are able to maintain programs and maintain support to schools and staff in what is undoubtedly a very, very difficult time for most school districts. In the months ahead, we will hear different stories from most other school districts,” Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said.

The board approved a budget that includes $86.8 million in spending and anticipates $79.1 million in revenues, with the balance to be covered by reserves this year. The district’s state-required three-year budget projections show that under current circumstances, the school board will balance the following year’s budget with the aid of reserves but will need to make $6.3 million in cuts to balance Alameda Unified’s budget in 2014.

Both Shemwell and Superintendent Kirsten Vital cautioned that the district’s budget numbers will be different the next time the board sees them. Prior three-year budgets showed the district making future cuts that haven’t materialized. But state leaders, who have not yet passed the state’s budget, have promised deep cuts to education if neither of the two ballot measures intended to raise taxes to fund education is approved by voters in November.

“It could get worse, or potentially get a little better, depending on what happens with the taxes,” Vital said.

Tuesday’s meeting marked a shift in the narrative around Alameda’s schools, which this year focused largely on the heated negotiations for a new teacher contract. While the board signed off on a class size and calendar deal with teachers, its focus Tuesday was on the district’s finances and the deep damage state funding cuts have done to them.

In addition to the budget presentation, the district got an update on the Robles-Wong school funding lawsuit, which was tossed by a local court but is set for an appeal, and another on the state tax measures.

Mid-year cuts the district and others across the state sustained during the 2008-2009 school year led Alameda Unified’s leaders to raise class sizes in kindergarten through third grade and to cut five days and furlough teachers during the 2009-2010 school year. The school board put three parcel taxes on the ballot in quick succession, ultimately raising about $12 million a year with the current Measure A tax.

District officials often credit that tax with preserving schools and services as state funding – the main revenue source for most school districts – is cut. Shemwell said the state’s cuts to per-student funding – the state has applied a “deficit factor” that essentially leaves the district with a little less than 78 cents for each dollar they were supposed to get, and the district could face an additional $455 per student cut – will leave the district without $17.4 million in state funding it should have received this year. Under the formula, the district lost $12 million in state funding last year, Shemwell’s presentation showed.

More detailed forms to be submitted to the state showed the district taking in $9 million less in revenues than it is estimated to have drawn this year, and spending about $1 million less.

Additional budgeted expenses for this year include $446,000 for salary bumps to non-teaching workers and $544,143 to support magnets and innovative school programs.

The board also signed off on an $887,000 contract for seismic shoring work to be performed at Alameda High School, plus up to $266,000 for project management, change orders and other soft costs. District staffers didn’t say when the project, which involves caging entrances and exits to parts of the school and erecting an eight-foot-high fence around much of it, would start.

Preservationists questioned the height and look of the planned chain-mesh fence and also district officials’ plan to leave the building permanently, saying they’re concerned the moves would blight one of the Island’s most magnificent pieces of architecture.

“It makes the high school look like abandoned building. I’m sure that’s not what the school district wishes to convey,” resident Corinne Lambden said.

Chris Buckley of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society offered a letter from another architecture firm suggesting the district could consider a less “disruptive and aesthetically objectionable” fence and that adult school students and the district’s offices need not be moved elsewhere as planned.

“With respect to the recent decision to vacate the adult education building and … the administration building, we believe that this decision should be reconsidered,” architects from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates wrote Monday. “Completely abandoning the buildings and enclosing them with a tall industrial chain-link fence will only serve to make the buildings appear more unsafe than they actually are.”

An architect working for the district disputed that the shoring work and fence will be enough to make the Alameda High School buildings safe enough for adult students or workers, and that doing such work would take additional time and cost millions of dollars more.

“We’ve been talking about this since January, and we’ve addressed all these things,” Shemwell said. “To come in at the eleventh hour and ask us to make modifications for beauty and aesthetics – I think this is the wrong time.”

Tuesday’s meeting is the last for the school board until August 14, as the board goes on hiatus in July.


Submitted by Irene on Wed, Jun 27, 2012

How much does the school district spend on educating one student per year?

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Jun 27, 2012

Hi Irene,

Hard to say, because it differs depending on the student, their needs and where they go to school (for example, spending per pupil on elementary school students is different from middle and high school students; special ed students get a dollar amount based on the services they receive). The state gave the city a per-pupil allotment of $5,185 this year per the district's preso; if they were on track for normal Prop 98 spending - that's the law that dictates how much money the state must spend on schools - the district would be getting $6,530 a kid.

I should note this is an average base revenue amount for all the kids at Alameda Unified, not counting other state and federal funds that pay for specific services (or the parcel tax money). I should also note that this base revenue amount differs from district to district, with some California districts getting hundreds of dollars more per kid to provide schooling and that this amount is based on historic state funding figures (as opposed to need, cost of providing services in a geographic area, etc). Governor Brown has proposed a new funding formula that would account for the number of low-income students and English learners - kids who traditionally need more services and are more expensive to educate.

Submitted by Irene on Wed, Jun 27, 2012

Thanks Michele.

Today’s front page story in the Chronicle states, “San Francisco schools will get about $567 million to educate the city’s 56,000 students this next academic year.”

It looks like that is $10,125 per pupil per year. That’s $222,750 for a class of 22. $303,750 for a class of 30.

Submitted by Irene on Wed, Jun 27, 2012

Oops. The article is on the front page of Tuesday's Bay Area section.

The figures takes into account a shorter school year, "176 days instead of 180, with teachers taking four furlough days.”

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Jun 27, 2012

Right. But this isn't a dollar amount that solely represents the cost of teachers and textbooks. It represents the cost of a number of other services - services that some students need or receive on different bases from their peers.

If I understood Robert Shemwell's preso correctly, the district is anticipating spending $12.9 million above and away from what they get from the feds on special education services next year - about 15 percent of the district's total expenditures.

The funding breakdown for Measure A offers another example. The measure contains $814,200 that's being used to pay part of the cost of a principal, janitor, office assistance and health clerk at three schools.

I will follow up at some point with a story.