Newhall School District officials are looking to bridge a $3 million loss in funding with a combination of measures that include outreach efforts, attendance incentive programs and a reduction in administrative allocations.
The district is projecting enrollment of 6,174 for the fiscal year that starts July 1, a decrease of 365 students from the 2018-19 school year enrollment of 6,539, according to the district’s recently adopted $68.3 million budget.
“Attendance is the single most-important factor that impacts a district’s annual revenues, as well as student learning,” said Superintendent Jeff Pelzel. “Students need to be in school every day to maximize their learning.”
Pelzel said this equates to a roughly $3-million loss in revenue for the next school year. State funding, such as the Local Control Funding Formula, the main source of unrestricted dollars for a district, is based on what state officials refer to as “Average Daily Attendance” for a district’s number of students.
Additionally, district officials are addressing issues related to employee pay and benefits, costs that are expected to rise significantly in the coming years. A majority of school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley and throughout California are experiencing similar challenges.
“Keep in mind the majority of school districts in California are experiencing enrollment decline,” said Pelzel, “which directly affects the districts’ revenues.”
Newhall’s plan is to keep going with what programs are being successful, as well as expanding upon an appeal to Santa Clarita Valley families.
“NSD continues to be an open-enrollment district as a means to increase enrollment and provide families with options for their children’s education,” said Michelle Morse, assistant superintendent of human resources at the district. (Open enrollment allows the district to accept students who traditionally would not be in its geographic boundaries.) “And we’re partnering with our families to look at ways to increase attendance, which will ensure students continue to make education gains, as well as mitigate educational loss — and we’ll continue to provide our arts program, which we believe is a benefit to a wide range of students and families.”
The drop in enrollment Newhall School District officials discussed during their budget approval Wednesday night prompted district officials to look at a number of different ways to increase attendance to help bridge the gap.
To put the significance of attendance in context, Pelzel noted this past school year, students who were absent cost the district approximately $2 million in lost ADA funding.
One solution has been to create programs around getting kids to school every day, Pelzel said.
“We piloted an attendance incentive program last school year to incentivize and increase attendance,” said Pelzel. “We are currently evaluating the success of this program and may continue it for the upcoming school year.”
The program financially incentivizes school sites with higher attendance, Morse said. Schools whose attendance increases from one month to the next receive approximately $500. Site administrators use this money to purchase equipment and supplies for their students (i.e. playground equipment, assembly awards and incentives for the district’s Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, or PBIS, program).
“We know there’s a direct correlation between students being in school and in their academic achievement,” said Morse. “We’re seeing a positive trend upward in our attendance, and it will continue to be a focus next year.”
“Our existing sixth-grade class that promoted is substantially larger than our incoming transitional kindergarten, and kindergarten is smaller in comparison,” said Morse. “You’re sending out more kids than are coming into the system.”
This is consistent with the demographer’s projections around birth rates in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to officials.
“The district approved a contract for advertising in August 2018, in the amount of $98,522 for the 2018-19 fiscal year,” said Deo Persaud, assistant superintendent of business services. “The contract included advertising in the following categories: web/print, movie theaters, and targeted mailers.”
Persaud added that it’s been difficult to precisely quantify the campaign’s efficacy, but, “It has been effective enough for the board to approve the continuation of the campaign from prior years.”
While outreach efforts have helped, ultimately, the district wasn’t able to completely avoid personnel changes at the school-site level.
“We are trying to gain enrollment through our marketing campaigns and adding to our reserves for the projected decline to avoid staff and program reductions,” said Pelzel. “One cut we have made going into next year is we reduced assistant principal allocations based on enrollment numbers.”
Districtwide, there were two administrative positions eliminated, said Morse.
“It does create an impact — there’s one less person to assist with the work that needs to be done,” she said. “But at the same time, we hire only the highest-quality principals who make the necessary adjudgements to ensure that teachers, students and families continue to have access to a first-rate education.”
The district’s revenue picture projections in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years also expect to be greatly impacted by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or STRS, and the California Employees Retirement System, or PERS, according to the district’s budget.
“Per the SACS report CALSTRS costs 11% and CALPERS costs 3% of the district’s entire general fund budget,” said Persaud. “Unfortunately, the rates are determined at the state level and can only be lowered with help from the state level.”
While those rates, in relation to the school budget, continue to rise for the district in the coming years, the board remains optimistic that through the programs they have implemented and seen success in, they will find a solution.
“The Newhall School District will continue its conservative approach to budget planning and it will continue its public relations to attract students,” said Sue Solomon, president of the NSD governing board. “Eventually we will put together what we would commonly call ‘Plan B’ for the district, so that we can continue to maintain instructional programs critical to student learning.”