Schools ‘flex’ categorical funding
While the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board approved a measure for the flexible funding of its Tier III categorical programs on Tuesday, it was a moot point since the district will be sending those funds back to the state as part of its “fair share.”
The state has allowed school districts to put its Tier III categorical money for programs such as adult education, class size reduction, professional development block grants and school and library block grants, to name a few, into the general fund to use however it sees fit.
The district’s Tier III funding is almost $2.6 million. And most of the programs it was supposed to fund were axed earlier this year.
“This allows us to use the flexibility the state gives us,” said Justin Frese, the district’s deputy superintendent. “We flex it and then write a ‘fair share’ check back to the state for more than $2.5 million.”
SVUSD is a basic aid district, meaning it gets all its funding from property taxes, as opposed to a revenue limit district for which the state sets a baseline and then backfills between the baseline and local taxes. When the state makes average daily attendance funding cuts to revenue limit districts, the district has to send money to Sacramento as part of what is called a “fair share.”
Superintendent Louann Carlomagno said that because the state can’t take back local property taxes, the district’s “fair share” comes out of the categorical money the state sends.
Boardmember Helen Marsh decried the closing of the adult education program, one of the victims of budget cuts. “Because of this categorical flexibility, we get this money but we send it back as part of Sacramento’s shell game that the state is requiring us to do,” Marsh said. “The state pretends to give it to us and then takes it away.”
Board president Gary DeSmet summed it up, saying “They give us the money to put in a pot – and then they take the pot.”
In other action, the board approved the Linked Learning Pathway, introduction to engineering. The course is for students in grades 10 through 12 and is a course in basic engineering that brings math and science together. Students will get hands-on training in areas such as rating consumer products, destructive testing and 3D solid modeling. The district is setting up a dedicated computer lab for the course in a back section of the library.
Lynn Fitzpatrick, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, told the board that the district was hoping to fill one section this fall, but the demand was so great that two sections were filled.
The course starts in August with the new school year.
The board also raised the developer fees.
The fees, which are levied on any new residential or commercial construction in the district, are used to fund the construction or reconstruction of school facilities.
The district hasn’t raised its developer fees since 2008 and they are below what the state currently allows school districts to charge.
Currently, developers pay $2.97 a square foot on new residential developments and additions of more than 500-square-feet, and 47 cents a square foot for commercial development, except for “rental self-storage,” which has a fee of 2 cents a square foot.
The school board raised the fees to $3.20 a square foot for residential development of additions of more than 500-square-feet, 51 cents a square foot for commercial development and 6 cents a square foot for “rental self-storage” units.
Even though the developer fees have generated only a little more than $800,000 over the past three years, Frese told the board that when the district goes to the state for construction money, the state checks to see if the district is charging the maximum allowed in developer’s fees. “And if we aren’t, that could disqualify us for state funds,” he said.
“It’ll only raise about $20,000 a year, but it keeps us eligible for state funding,” he added.
The board will hold a special meeting next Tuesday, June 19, to pass the district’s budget for the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1.