Local Foundations Pitch In to Alleviate Budget Cut Impact
“It’s absolutely wonderful that we have supporting parents who are willing to step in and provide support for [our school],” said sophomore Emma Maiden, referring to the $600,000 that the Acalanes Parents Club and Lafayette Partners in Education (LPIE) provided to Acalanes as additional funding for the 2012-2013 school year.
But now that Acalanes is facing financial uncertainty and another round of potential budget cuts from the state, $250,000 of that amount will be diverted to Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) instead of going directly to Acalanes. The district will use this money to help maintain seven period days and core classes necessary for graduation.
For the past three years, LPIE and the Acalanes Parents Club have collaborated to allocate $600,000 to Acalanes each year to help fund a wide variety of educational programs, including Writing for Mastery, Peer Tutoring, library database subscriptions and acquisitions, and extra costs that accumulate in every department. Additionally, the money helps combat budget reductions by helping keep class sizes small and maintaining elective program options.
Confronted with substantial cuts in funding for the state, the district requests a portion of the funds LPIE and the Parents Club send to Acalanes to be diverted to the district. Prior to the 2009-2010 school year, the district requested $200,000 each year. While planning the budget for the 2010-2011 school year, AUHSD requested an additional $25,000.
“[The amount of money given to AUHSD] is based on the needs of the district,” said Acalanes Principal Aida Glimme.
This year, the amount of money that the district requested reached a record $250,000 for core programs, deterring funds from Acalanes electives. The district’s goal is to ensure that Acalanes students who requested seven periods receive them, that class sizes be kept down, and that certain elective programs continue running.
Because of the reallocation of funding, there will be noticeable reductions in certain areas of Acalanes’ education. There will be almost no improvements or updates in technology for the next school year that are funded by Parent Club or LPIE money, though some Measure E bond money remains for such purchases.
In addition, a small amount of funding will be taken from each department to ensure a balanced budget. Science classes will have to forgo new lab equipment and field trips.
“It’s not like one [single] program got eliminated,” said Glimme. “We’re not going to have as many class size reductions. We’re going to have the Writing for Mastery scaled back by two thirds right now. Everybody took a little bit of a hit.”
As Glimme mentioned, a drastic cut will impact Writing for Mastery, a program that provides certain social studies classes with personal tutoring from experts.
Luckily, neither the Library nor the Peer Tutoring program will suffer significant cuts in funding.
For the past four years, the district has been forced to make budget cuts and freeze faculty salaries. In addition, the district has scheduled ten Furlough days over the past two years.
As counselors gathered student course requests for the 2012-2013 school year, Acalanes administrators, in collaboration with the district, calculated that $5 million would be needed to maintain the current educational programs at Acalanes. Maintaining these programs includes keeping classes at their current sizes and do avoided any faculty layoffs.
This year, AUHSD removed $3 million from its $10.3 million reserve, which currently holds 19.21 percent of total revenue for the district, while total state cuts amounted to $1 million. However, with still another $1 million needed to maintain the same number of periods and class size at all high schools, AUHSD Superintendent John Nickerson requested that community foundations in Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, and Walnut Creek donate some of their funds to the cause.
“The parent foundations, parents clubs and [other] groups made that pledge and that commitment [in] early February or mid-February, so we didn’t have to go through the process of cutting back programs,” said Nickerson.
The education groups in each city worked together to raise $250,000 in donations. Apart from Acalanes Parents Club and LPIE, other foundations involved in the process include the Walnut Creek Education Foundation (WCEF), the Las Lomas Parent-Teacher Association, the Education Foundation of Orinda (EFO), the Miramonte Parents Club, the Moraga Education Foundation, and the Campolindo Parents Club. The presidents of each group met at “Coordinating Council” meetings throughout the decision process before making the final commitment and deciding to donate the money.
“These organizations coming up [with funds] to protect those programs is good and is the best use of their money,” said Nickerson.
Although many community members are very grateful for the foundations’ decision to donate such large amounts to maintain the programs, questions have arisen regarding whether the money to maintain core classes should have come primarily from two foundations that usually fund inner-class programs rather than pay for the maintenance of core classes in the school schedule. With such a substantial reserve, some individuals cannot
see the validity of requesting more money from volunteer parent groups.
“I appreciate LPIE and Parents Club funding stepping up to the plate when they’re asked, but I know [that] if I lived in this community, it would be hard for me because I would [think], ‘you guys have $10 million in reserve; why are you asking us to raise money for you and take it out of the classroom and take it out of our local high school and our direct students?” said science teacher Lori Tewksbury.
A portion of the school community is disappointed that this funding came from LPIE and the Acalanes Parents Club, which usually support extra classroom programs to enrich the education of students rather than preserve basic classes at the school. Their questions revolve around why the funds didn’t originate from the district’s reserve.
“From the budget documents I looked at a couple months ago, it seemed that the district was being overly conservative,” said Tewksbury.
The district explains the large size of the reserve by citing potential budget cuts in the near future. Without a money cushion, reductions in revenue could leave the district struggling.
“Without that reserve we could not handle the unexpected for next year,” said Learned.
Some faculty members agree with Learned’s opinion: they believe it is a good idea to always be frugal and prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“The district is being very careful because you don’t want to spend a bunch of money and then find out you don’t have it,” said art teacher Deb Taylor. “It’s a very difficult situation.”
Two tax initiatives in November are on the horizon and will determine whether or not the district loses $2-3 million from its budget. One of these initiatives is known as the “Millionaire’s Tax,” because of its focus on revenue from higher income tax-payers. The other initiative is called “Our Children, Our Future,” and is headed by attorney Molly Munger.
“A poll just came out [that] I believe [said] there is 54 percent support for [the tax initiatives passing], and that’s a close number,” said AUHSD Associate Superintendent Christopher Learned. “If there is any concerted opposition toward it, it’s easy to swing that vote, so it’s definitely not certain that it’s something that is going to pass. That’s why I would not budget saying that [that] money will be there because it would be irresponsible of the district to do that.”
In addition to the tax initiatives, a new budget plan called the Weighted Student Formula threatens even more of Acalanes’ resources. The plan, if passed into the budget by California’s Governor Brown, would give additional funding to schools with higher numbers of English learners or students involved in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. This would result in a decrease in the annual funding of school districts like AUHSD, where there are few of these students.
“The theory [is] that the less fortunate students need more financial resources. The initial formula basically breaks it down so that the base share next year is $96 per student,” said Learned. “And then the plan would be to roll [the money] out over a six-year period, and at the end of year six, we actually end up with thirteen dollars less per student. That would have a tremendous effect on this district.”
The additional amount of money added to the reserve has resulted from several instances in which the district has saved money to endure budget cuts the government planned, but did not follow through with. First, the state announced a $500 per average daily attendance [ADA] cut, but the cut did not go through, leaving the district with $3 million dollars extra. $1.2 million more was granted to the district after the Obama administration passed the Economic Recovery Act. Lastly, savings from administrative cuts and ten furlough days placed $1 million more in the reserve.
“This reserve is going to go down pretty quickly,” said Learned. “It was built up kind of in a weird way. We got money that we didn’t expect from the federal government.”
At the end of this school year, the reserve will be down to $10 million, and at the end of the next year, Learned predicts that it will be down to $6 million.
Even with the looming uncertainties of tax initiatives and the Weighted Student Formula, some teachers believe it is not worth it to make cuts that affect the district’s students’ educations when it is not certain that budget cuts are going to pass and be enforced.
“They’ve been preparing for worst-case scenarios for years, and something has always come up so that the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen,” said Tewksbury. “Granted, we might get the worst-case scenario. But if the November [initiatives] don’t pass and we do get cuts, we could react to it for the following year. It bothers me that we’re impacting the next school year when I don’t think we need to, because that’s a year that no student is ever going to get back.”
Despite the potential for upcoming budget problems and controversies over using the parent foundations as a major source of funding, there is absolutely no doubt that parents, teachers, administrators, and students are grateful that LPIE and the Acalanes Parents Club are so generous in protecting valuable Acalanes resources. Most community members agree that it is Acalanes’ unique electives and academic programs that make it the high-ranking school that it is.
“[Our classes] give kids opportunities to explore different disciplines, or to really dive deeper to explore something that they really love or that they’re really good at. It makes it just a much richer environment,” said President of LPIE, Cassie Nevins.
Learned agrees, expressing his extreme appreciation for all of the support education foundations and the parent community provide for the schools in the district.
“The district shows a lot of gratitude to what [parents and foundations] do,” said Learned. “It’s tremendous what they do, whether [the district] is asking for it or whether it’s going directly to the schools to benefit kids.”