District officials face budget worries amid eroding enrollment and fluctuating attendance numbers
In mid-June, school districts across the state approved their school budgets and set goals to achieve student success through their Local Control and Accountability Plans for the 2022-23 school year.
However, school officials across the state, some more than others, face enrollment challenges, which impact a district’s budget — and how to effectively use those funds for students.
“It’s important to know the history, and also understand that each district will have different enrollment numbers,” said Nick Heinlein, the assistant superintendent of business for the Saugus Union School District. “Every day, a student either (might) leave a district or come into a new one.”
How school districts are funded
School districts are funded through a mix of local, state and federal revenues, with a majority of those funds coming from the Local Control Funding Formula, according to Sheri Staszewski, superintendent of business services for the Newhall School District.
The LCFF consists of a base amount of money, which is dependent on enrollment, supplemental grants, K-3 and universal pre-kindergarten adjustments as outlined by the California Department of Education.
“There is also a per-pupil amount, a base amount that we get for every student across the state of California,” Staszewski said.
Districts also receive supplemental grants to support English language learners, economically disadvantaged and foster students.
“From district to district that could vary depending on our population,” Staszewski said.
So, districts receive monies from different sources, but the majority comes from base funding, which is tied to enrollment. However, in California those base funds are not tied on total enrollment, but rather the average daily attendance of students.
Total ADA is defined as the total days of student attendance divided by the total days of instruction, according to the Department of Education.
“That’s the majority of our funding. We do get federal funding through the title program,” Staszewski said. “But those are restricted programs that we can’t use to pay for ongoing operational expenses. We can provide additional services to students and use those dollars for those purposes.
“We’re very much dependent on our students attending and coming to school, and our enrollment,” Staszewski said in regard to the Newhall district. However, this can be said for districts in general.
During the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, the state and federal government supported school districts more so in terms of funding in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to school officials.
The money was one-time funds for the purpose of purchasing personal protection equipment or other COVID-19 related costs, which included, but was not limited to, COVID-19 tests and distance-learning financial costs.
In addition, Gov. Gavin Newsom allowed school districts to use prior years’ ADA or the current year to calculate their base funding, which helped offset the reduction in base funds tied to enrollment through 2019-2021.
How the pandemic affected districts’ budgets
According to data from the Department of Education, enrollment declined in the Santa Clarita Valley with enrollment numbers in the 2018-19 school year at 9,791 students in the Saugus district, 6,539 students in the Newhall district, 5,336 students in Sulphur Springs Union School District and 2,037 students in the Castaic Union School District.
Most recent enrollment data for the 2021-22 school year showed 9,102 students in the Saugus district, 5,834 students in Newhall district, 5,188 students in Sulphur Springs district and 1,893 students in the Castaic district.
School officials said enrollment trends are eroding not just in the valley but across the state, too.
In discussions with The Signal earlier this year, school officials from each of the four elementary school districts worried about declining enrollment, fluctuating attendance, and how it would affect their respective budgets.
Superintendent Steve Doyle of the Castaic district said declining enrollment and absenteeism is due in large part to COVID-19, but there are also fewer younger students — as children get older and move on from the district.
“There were families that took their time,” Doyle said. “There were also different home programs for distance learning, and so forth, and we’ve seen some [of our students] come back to us.”
During the height of the pandemic, some parents felt it was unsafe to send their students back to in-person learning, some parents opted to keep their children in distance-learning programs, and some families decided to leave California, all of which together motivated to make the change, according to Doyle.
But district officials said families are feeling more secure sending their children back to school, which was evident in the 2021-22 school year, and with housing developments nearing completion, they also project younger families calling the Santa Clarita Valley home.
There will also be an increased number of students due to new pre-K students entering SCV school districts, which is part of a state effort to provide more early-learning opportunities for children 4 years and older.
This year, Newsom offered further support to school districts by providing a third option, using the average of the prior three-year ADA, to calculate base funding.
In addition, Newsom’s 2022-23 May Revision for the state’s budget had calculated the cost-of-living adjustment to be 6.56%. The state provides additional monies to districts to help offset the cost of living.
According to the 45-day revision budget report, the district is expected to have revenues at approximately $15 million higher than estimated expenditures. Total revenues are estimated to be at $98 million and total expenditures estimated at $82 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
The majority of the Newhall district’s expenditures are related to salaries and covering employee benefits.
The estimated cost for certificated salaries is $32 million, classified salaries are $12 million and employee benefits are $18 million, according to the budget.
According to the district’s multi-year projection, Newhall will see a net change of approximately $8.7 million in its 2023-24 budget with total revenues at approximately $84.6 million and total expenditures at approximately $75.9 million.
Total revenues are projected at $86.2 million with total expenditures at $75.1 million with a net increase of about $11 million for the 2024-25 fiscal year, according to Staszewski.
According to the 2022-23 adopted budget, Sulphur Springs Union School District will have a net decrease of approximately $5.9 million with total revenues estimated at $70 million and total expenditures estimated at $76 million.
The majority of expenditures stem from salaries, according to budget documents.
According to Josh Randall, assistant superintendent of business services, the district budgeted for approximately $26 million in certified salaries, $11 million in classified salaries and $21 million in employee benefits.
According to the district’s multi-year projection, Sulphur Springs will see a net decrease of approximately $2 million in its 2023-24 budget with total revenues at approximately $70 million and total expenditures at approximately $72 million.
Total revenues are projected at $69 million with total expenditures at $72 million with a net decrease of about $3 million for the 2024-25 fiscal year, according to Randall.
“We do have a deficit, but what’s interesting is after our adopted budget…we’re still kind of calculating and crunching,” Randall said.
Other school officials shared similar sentiments describing a district’s budget as a “living and breathing document,” which means their budgets can change, though it will depend on funding sources.
Castaic district officials adopted their 2022-23 budget in June, too. District officials estimate $26.2 million in revenues with $26.6 million in expenditures. Overall, this year, the district will see a net decrease in funds of approximately $400,000.
A majority of expenditure costs are related to staff salaries with approximately $10.7 million budgeted for certified salaries, $4.7 million for classified salaries and $5.9 million for employee benefits, Irene Boden, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, wrote in an email.
“We are projecting an increase in revenue in the 2023-24 school year,” Boden said. “Expenditures are higher than the revenues received in that fiscal year. This is due to funds received in prior fiscal years, which means that we received money in the prior year for across fiscal year purposes.”
According to the multi-year projections, officials estimate a net decrease of approximately $200,000 in the 2023-24 fiscal year with total revenues estimated at $26.4 million and total expenditures estimated at $26.6 million.
But they estimate total revenues at approximately $28 million and total expenditures at $26.5 million with a net increase of approximately $1.5 million in the 2024-25 fiscal year.
Saugus Union School District officials estimate total revenues at approximately $120.9 million and total expenditures at $122.1 million, which would be a net decrease of $1.2 million this current fiscal year.
According to budget documents, the district budgeted $48.5 million for certificated salaries, $20.2 million for classified salaries and $32.4 million for employee benefits.
In the following years, the district is estimated to see an increase in total revenue and a decrease in total expenditure.
According to the multi-year projections, total revenues are estimated at $121.1 million and total expenditures are estimated at $118.3 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year, and total revenues are estimated at $126.5 million and total expenditures at $121 million for the 2024-25 fiscal year.
SCV district officials also approved their respective Local Control and Accountability Plans after conducting numerous feedback sessions with stakeholders.
LCAP are requirements for any local educational agency that receives supplemental and concentration grants based on enrollment of unduplicated pupils, or high-needs students, such as foster youth, English learners and low-income students.
According to Randall, there are two areas in his district that are a big focus — social-emotional needs and chronic absenteeism. These two areas are also described in the three other districts’ LCAPs.
“For our students, it’s helping them adjust to being back in school and supporting them in all areas, so they can be focused and thrive academically,” Randall said. “You’ll notice a theme, making sure that they’re continuing to be able to learn and grow, wherever they’re at instructionally.”
The four elementary districts outlined similar goals in the LCAPs. However, each plan varies depending on a district’s student groups.
Each school district will continue ongoing practices to support student needs such as continuing distance-learning programs, accelerated-learning and learning recovery opportunities, providing wellness services, improving safety and increasing parent engagement.
“One of our actions this year, in addition to some of the software that we utilize, is to increase hours in our office, so that we can have better touch points with our students and their peers,” Staszewski said. “This is to ensure that we’re addressing their needs to remove barriers, so they can attend school.”
The four elementary school districts are allocating resources toward increasing parent engagement as a means to mitigate chronic abseentism, whether it’s through software or more communication between staff and parents.