05.02.11: LAO Small School District Recommendations - Action Needed
By Walrath, David
IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED
Please call your State Senator and State Assembly Member today to express your concerns with the Legislative Analyst’s recommendations. Let your Legislator know how the recommendations would affect your community. Please let your school board members, parents, staff and community members know about the recommendations. After calling, please send a formal letter to your State Senator and Assembly Member expressing your opinion on the recommendations.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) is recommending that all school districts with 100 or fewer students be “lapsed” into surrounding school districts. The purpose is to get rid of the school districts.
The recommendations would do the following:
Eliminate minimum categorical aid grants to all small school districts
- Offset all of basic aid excess property tax against categorical aid
- Clarify that Most Consolidations can Waive CEQA Review Requirements
- Eliminate Statutory Two-Year Salary and Position protections for Classified Staff
- Strengthen Eligibility Requirements to Ensure State Provides Extra Funding Only to Small Schools That Truly Are Necessary
- Consider Instituting Minimum Threshold for School Size
The Assembly Budget Subcommittee will hear the LAO recommendations on May 3, 2011 and the Senate Budget Subcommittee will hear the recommendations on May 11th.
The Legislative Analyst’s recommendations do not save money. They will hurt many rural communities. The following is excerpted from the LAO’s report:
“Increase Minimum Threshold for District Size to at Least 100 Students. Because they spend notably larger proportions of their budgets on overhead costs and are difficult to hold accountable for student performance, we recommend the state change its policies regarding very small districts. Specifically, we recommend the state increase the minimum size for districts from ADA of six for elementary and 11 for high school and unified to at least 100 ADA for all types of districts. We believe this still is an extremely low threshold, and the state could certainly consider a higher minimum requirement. However, we estimate that just moving to a minimum of 100 ADA would eliminate roughly 100 (or one in ten) districts in the state. (The state could use the current policy for districts that do not meet existing minimum size requirements, which allows them to "lapse" and immediately merge into a neighboring district without undertaking the formal consolidation process.) The state could maintain an option for districts to petition for a waiver if they are just under the cut–off point or if they exceed the minimum but still wish to merge into a neighboring district without the formal consolidation process.
“Eliminate Fiscal Incentives for Districts to Remain Small. Because we find no rationale for why a community that has chosen not to consolidate their small districts deserves fiscal advantages, we recommend the state stop providing extra funding to districts based solely on their small size. Specifically, we recommend eliminating the practice of providing minimum grants for certain state categorical programs. Current programs with minimum grants include the Economic Impact Aid (EIA) program, Gifted and Talented Education, the Supplemental Counseling program, the School Safety Block Grant, and the Arts and Music Block Grant. (With the exception of EIA, all of these programs are part of the state's current categorical flexibility initiative.) Some of the funding advantages small districts receive, such as excess tax revenues and some other local revenues, are somewhat outside of the state's jurisdiction. However, the state could recognize the excess property tax revenue that basic aid districts receive and provide those districts commensurately less state aid for categorical programs in an effort to "level the playing field" with nonbasic aid districts.
“Eliminate Some Additional Fiscal Disincentives for Districts to Consolidate. Besides the unattractive possibility that they would lose special funding advantages, districts also are reluctant to undertake consolidation because of potential associated costs and the possibility that it would not yield much savings. We recommend the state make two changes to address these issues:
- Clarify That Most Consolidations Can Waive CEQA Review Requirements. Currently, district consolidations are viewed as CEQA "projects," often necessitating a costly and lengthy review process that can serve as a deterrent to consolidating. Because district consolidations do not typically have significant environmental impacts, we recommend the Legislature remove the requirement that a CEQA study be undertaken (though in particular instances, a review may still be warranted, for example if the consolidation would necessitate building a new school).
- Eliminate Statutory Two–Year Salary and Position Protections for Classified Staff. Currently, districts are prohibited from laying off or reducing the salaries of classified employees (such as clerical, custodial, or other support personnel) until two years post–consolidation, even if an employee's position and its associated responsibilities are no longer necessary. This can prohibit newly consolidated districts from realizing all the potential savings that greater efficiencies and economies of scale might yield. We recommend the Legislature repeal this statutory provision.
“Strengthen Eligibility Requirements to Ensure State Provides Extra Funding Only to Small Schools That Truly Are Necessary. We recommend the Legislature revise the statute that defines eligibility for the NSS supplement to incorporate students' ability to access other nearby schools, even if they are in other districts. We do not believe the state should pay more for small, costly schools simply because a community has chosen to maintain a single–school district when there are other public schools and districts within close proximity. Moreover, we recommend the state simplify and increase the statutory distance thresholds for how far students would need to travel to get to another public school before their local school is declared "necessary" to generate the supplement.
“Consider Instituting Minimum Threshold for School Size. We recommend the Legislature consider establishing a minimum school size—perhaps 20 students—to encourage greater efficiencies and opportunities for students, with an option for waivers based on extreme circumstances. While we do not believe the state should maintain exceptionally small school districts, there is a persuasive rationale for why some remote schools are necessarily small—and therefore costly. However, we remain uncertain as to whether some schools might also be too small. The state currently does not have a minimum threshold for school size, and funds 75 schools that serve fewer than 20 students, with 40 of these schools serving fewer than ten students. Even if they are sufficiently geographically isolated to qualify for the NSS supplement under our revised eligibility criteria, we question whether exceptionally small schools make sense—for the state or for students. Because of the statistical limitations related to their small size, it is difficult to draw conclusions as to the performance outcomes of students who attend these schools. It is clear, however, that students at exceptionally small schools with few teachers and few peers are getting a different educational experience compared to most students in the state. Comparing the student benefits of avoiding extensive transit time and receiving a more individualized program against the drawbacks of more limited opportunities and notably higher state costs is a difficult policy decision that we believe merits further review.”
SSDA will be testifying in opposition to these recommendations and will be writing all members about the Association’s concerns.
I will send an update after the Assembly Budget Subcommittee hearing.