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As school enrollment drops, so does funding

Proposition 30 tax package has heavy influence this year
By: Amber Marra Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn area schools have seen fluctuations in enrollment over the last three years, reflecting a downward trend in the amount of funding districts get from the state. This year, Auburn Union School District Superintendent Michele Schuetz said the district’s three elementary schools are down 56 students from last year and E.V. Cain Charter Middle School is down 17 students. In its first year, Alta Vista Education Center has 95 students, which has made up for some of the enrollment slip. “Believe it or not, at one point years ago we had 1,000 more students in our district than we do now,” Schuetz said. “There are a few of those students who are going to local K through eight’s but a majority of them are moving out of the district or out of state.” Rock Creek Elementary has 308 students this year, according to Schuetz. That’s down by seven students last year, though Rock Creek’s principal, Suzanne Flint, said she is hopeful for higher enrollment from her pre-school and transitional kindergarten programs. The other schools within the Auburn Union School District have also seen declines in enrollment. At Skyridge Elementary, Principal Jen Lewandowski has around 512 students this year, down by 29 from her enrollment last year. At Auburn Elementary, Principal Sam Schug has 20 fewer students this year with a population of 490. Slipping by 56 students may not seem like much in districts where students number in the thousands, but each student lost over the years impacts how much financial help a district gets from the state. Revenue Limits Pose Big Influence School districts throughout California are funded through a formula known as “revenue limits,” according to the state Department of Education website. Revenue limits are determined through the reporting of different variables by school districts, including attendance and enrollment. When it comes to reporting attendance, the data from the previous school year impacts the funding for the upcoming school year, with the exception of charter schools. So this year’s attendance and enrollment figures will be used to determine how much funding districts get per student from the state next year. That means the number of students counted by a district weighs heavily on how much funding is allocated. “A district’s revenue limit entitlement is its base revenue limit multiplied by the number of students attending its schools,” a report titled “Funding California Schools: The Revenue Limit System” by Margaret Weston states. Local property taxes and state aid also play a role in determining revenue limits. The revenue limit entitlement reached by student attendance is added to a district’s excess taxes, or the tax revenue that exceeds the entitlement amount, and that determines a district’s revenue limit funds. Gayle Garbolino-Mojica, superintendent at the Placer County Office of Education, said declining enrollment has been a problem in many schools, especially those in rural areas, for the past decade. “If you look at the education system’s evil trifecta, it’s budget cuts, cash flow and fewer students,” Garbolino-Mojica said. “In the foothill areas for the last seven to 10 years we’ve seen a decline in enrollment.” Election Presents New Variable Monica Williams, business manager for the Auburn Union School District, is waiting for the upcoming November election with high anticipation. Like other district business managers, she knows the weight Proposition 30 carries. Proposition 30, or the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act, would increase income taxes for higher-income earners and up the state sales tax to address California’s budget deficit and prevent cuts to public safety and education. Williams said that the base revenue limit per student last year before the 20 percent deficit factor that is withheld by the state every year in the Auburn Union School District was $6,079. With the deficit factor included the district got $4,826 per student. “But for the new year we’re working with a known deficit factor and a potential deficit factor depending on the election,” Williams said. For this school year, Williams calculates that her district should get $6,418 per student and if the Proposition 30 tax initiative passes that amount will be pushed to $4,989 via a 22 percent deficit factor. If the tax package does not pass, the deficit factor increases to almost 29 percent, leaving the district with $4,569 per student, according to Williams. Attendance, funding drops Within the Placer Union High School District’s seven schools, enrollment dropped by 63 from 4,379 to 4,316 students between this year and last year, according to data provided by Doug Marquand, assistant superintendent of administrative services. Marquand said last year his district got $5,569 per student and the year before that the district got $5,946 per student. The district was supposed to receive $7,732 per student before the deficit factor. “They deficit our funding because the state is in a fiscal crisis, so they say they will pay us that 20 percent sometime in the future,” Marquand said. “We educate the students today and the state will pay us for them tomorrow. So for our district that’s almost $7 million last year alone.” Placer High School had 1,368 students last year and has fluctuated since the beginning of the year, according to Principal Peter Efstathiu. The first day of school he expected there to be around 1,350 students, but was surprised when he saw his enrollment temporarily jump to 1,375, resulting in schedule changes and class juggling. Since the beginning of school enrollment has dropped back down to 1,345, according to the data provided by Marquand. In its ninth year, Foresthill High School is at its lowest enrollment since 2006, which is as far back as Marquand’s data goes. Foresthill High has 219 students, down from 240 last year. At Sierra Hills Charter Academy, Fred Adam, who is district superintendent and the principal at Sierra Hills, has a student population of 364 this year down by 24 students from last year. In the Placer Hills Union School District, enrollment fell by 75 students this year, according to Adam. Over the past 10 years enrollment has dropped in the district every year except for two. “You always hope your attendance goes up, but at this point we use what we have as a baseline so we have a solid idea for what we’re working with next year,” Adam said. “Here in the foothills it’s the typical trend for attendance to go down.” Enrollment fell by 100 students from 1,034 in the 2010 school year to 934 during the last school year, according to the state Department of Education data. The consistent drop in enrollment has resulted in higher cost and stagnant revenue limit funding, according to Nancy Mosier, business manager for the district. “It adds up very quickly,” Mosier said. Mosier said after the deficit factor her district gets around $4,999 and said over the previous 10 years though operating and personnel costs have increased, the amount the district gets per student has only increased by $468. At Weimar Hills Middle School, Principal Steve Schaumleffel said enrollment at his school has dropped almost every year for the past 12 years. This year Weimar Hills has 501 students, down 51 from last year. “We’re feeling really good this year, but we’re disappointed that our numbers are declining,” Schaumleffel said in an interview before school started. Garbolino-Mojica said in some instances fewer students can mean less money for schools and districts. At the high school level, student attendance versus how much funding is allocated can impact how many sections of certain classes are offered. “We see the need for algebra and English teachers, but if we have less students we may see sections of those classes that aren’t filled to a level that we’d like, so we would still have a cost there, but we don’t have the students there generating the revenue to pay for it,” Garbolino-Mojica said. Community Colleges Also Struggle Enrollment decline isn’t limited to elementary, middle and high schools. Enrollment figures released by Sierra College show that the student population decreased by 2,395 students from 21,274 in fall 2009 to this school year’s 18,879. On Aug. 29, California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said in a press release that budget cuts are largely responsible for enrollment declines at community colleges across the state. Scott said in the release that enrollment throughout the community college system has decreased by 17 percent during the last three years. Sue Michaels, spokesperson for Sierra College, said in 2008 the school had around $85 million in general revenues, including the money they got from the state. That has dropped to $75 million and the impact has trickled down to those students who continue to attend Sierra. “The truth is that even though we’re only getting paid for so many students to register there are still students coming to Sierra, the lines are just as long at student services, students are still applying and sitting in the hallways trying to add classes,” Michaels said. Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.