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Wagner Op/Ed: 'Biggest Budget Challenges We Have Seen in Decades'

Monrovia Unified School District Superintendent Linda Wagner gives an overview of the state of the district's budget.

At the present time, schools are facing the biggest budget challenges we have seen in decades. The impacts of the downturn of the economy were felt years ago. As we cut deeper and deeper year after year, these cuts are impacting students at an increasing and alarming level.

Introduction to School Revenue

Monrovia Unified School District receives its funds from several sources. The most significant revenue source is the State of California. Schools are one of the largest places the State funnels their money. The District also receives funds from the Federal government and local sources.

Slow Economy = Lower School Revenue

School finance is, for better or worse, directly tied to the economy in the State of California. When the economy is bad and property taxes are down, the State does not receive the same amount of money as in the past, and they have less overall dollars to send to the schools.

Dollars are Decreasing Dramatically

The main issue at this time is the dollars for education are shrinking. We are now funded at a per student level that is almost identical to the amount of money we received in 2002-03 per student, and yet operating expenses have increased dramatically. There simply is not enough money to operate our schools. The Governor’s office understands the problem, and is actually considering reducing the school year by as much as 21 total school days to make up for the budget shortfall. This sheds lights on just how serious the problem has become.

To give an idea of the problem in local dollars, in 2003, Monrovia received 4,732 per student. In 2013, we are slated to receive $5,220 if the tax initiative passes and $4,765 if it fails. If we were actually paid what is due by the State, we would be paid $6,711. What a difference that additional revenue would make (and, don’t forget, the State owes us that money)!

Attendance is Essential

State funding is based directly on student attendance at school. It is not based on the number of students enrolled, but on how many actually come to class each day. Absences are no longer “excused” as they were in the past. If a student is not there, the District simply does not receive money for that student that day.

Thanks to the hard work of students, staff and parents, Monrovia’s attendance rate has not been higher in over 10 years. We are presently at a 95.79% attendance rate. We know this can be improved by working together with families to ensure that appointments, day trips, vacations and fun outside activities are scheduled outside the school day. Ensuring that students attend school whenever possible is one big way we can all make a positive difference in student learning and in  Monrovia Unified School District’s revenue.

Two Basic Kinds of Funds

School districts have two basic types of funds. One type is “general”. Fund received for general purposes can be used for most types of expenditures. “Categorical” funds, on the other hand, must be used for very specific purposes. These types of funds include money to fund services for English learners, Special Education students, and more.

“Sweeping Funds”

In recent years, the Governor has allowed previously very strict sources of categorical revenue to be “swept”, or taken by the general fund. For example, Monrovia once had a very large adult school. Adult school funds can now be “swept” for general purposes. Since the K-12 system lacks the basic funds it needs to survive, Monrovia has had to use adult education funds to support K-12 students. The impact of MUSD “sweeping” adult school funds is so significant that now the only classes offered in adult school are either financially self-sustaining or are required in order to make high school schedules and programs complete. Where we once served 7,000 adult school students, we now serve 1,500. Over time, the “sweeping” of funds takes away the impact of special programs, and as in the case of adult school, threatens to take almost the entire program.

Cost of Living Adjustments

The State promises schools they will receive cost of living adjustments annually, however these adjustments are not being paid year after year. If Monrovia was to have been receiving the promised adjustments, and if Monrovia had been paid on time by the State, MUSD would now have almost $2,000 more per student than we now receive. For several reasons, including the slow economy, the State has not been able to keep up with these cost of living payments, and owes the schools a great deal of money. We are presently receiving 80 cents on every one dollar due for the purpose of educating our students.

Tax Initiative

The Governor has put a tax initiative on the ballot. If it passes, education will not get additional money, but MUSD will lose less. If it does not pass, MUSD will lose $455 per student more than we have already lost.

Deferrals

California has begun the practice of paying their bills to districts late. What they owe in December they may choose to pay, for example, in March. In some cases, the payments are so delayed that what is owed in one school year is paid in the next. Meanwhile, school districts still have to pay their teachers and staff, pay for utilities and operational costs. The result is that school districts are forced to borrow at a steadily increasing rate. So if you followed this discussion, the State is forcing school districts to borrow for money that is due, because the State is paying their bills late. This borrowing results in fees to school districts, which could have been avoided if the State had paid on time.

What has already been cut?

There is a very long list of cuts that have been already made, and are impacting students. It would take pages to list them all. Those directly impacting students include:

  • Class size increase in K-3 from 20 to 30.
  • Reduction of 5 school days and 1 staff development day
  • A high school administrative position
  • Elimination of Monrovia High block schedule
  • Reallocation of Adult Education funding
  • Elimination of elementary and middle school summer school
  • We stopped purchasing textbooks 2008-2010
  • Reduction of instructional supplies
  • We have reduced the number of or hours allocated for:
    • Health aides
    • Custodians
    • Teachers
    • Librarians

What is Next?

At this time, the District is exploring what options remain for future cuts. We are seeking input from the public in the form of public meetings and welcome your input! Please see our website for a complete list of budget meetings.

--Superintendent Linda Wagner

Holly Hale April 20, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Kim, I am well aware of how things work in Monrovia as my son is a recent grad of MHS. I adore what Mr. Jackson has done with our HS and tout the attributes to the snobs of Arcadia and other surrounding communities on a regular basis. We have a higher success rate, fewer drop outs, and more kids entering college that certain unmentionable districts in the SGV. As for "off the cuff;" the opportunity to make money for the schools by rejecting a body building contest was not well received by many of us. In an "atmosphere of obesity" plaguing much of the US, such a competition could inspire a healthier student populace (except, they are not who would attend). We appreciate what can be done on a shoe string budget (as any single mom, thank you very much) but can certainly disapprove of some of the ways money is spent.
Kim Petulla April 20, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Holly, the reply was not to you. It was to Monrovia Betty. Of course it is your right to disapprove. I will stress again however, that there have been numerous outlets to express your concerns. I am not implying that you yourself have not attended meetings but all three of the town hall meetings were poorly attended. Among my other meetings this week I did attend one of the town hall sessions. The district as well as the board welcomed any and all suggestions - even the suggestion of selling the district office. They are open and more importantly they would love and need the peoples input.
Holly Hale April 20, 2012 at 11:38 PM
It came to my inbox as is it were addressed to me. Selling the District office and moving, where? Thanks for the update.
Chris Ziegler April 21, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Kim, I'm willing to attend meetings, but it's been my experience with government that public meetings are really just a dog and pony show and at the end of the day, staff does what staff wants - or staff does what they think the council wants to hear, (sorry to put the MUSD board in the same camp with council members without giving them the benefit of the doubt). There have been a few exceptions i.e. when citizens pack council chambers but that is rare. It is my thought that emailing ideas is sufficient. Do you agree? Also, as a PTA Pres and MUSD employee (making you a subject matter expert) are there any ideas you feel common folk should research and/or advocate? Lastly, The national level PTA folks recommend that we get our kids to be more physically active and eat healthier. The 2 most common recomendations are to teach young kids that playing is fun (best to target kids before 5 years of age) and to use active transportation i.e walk/bike to school, as doing so, will save huge amounts of money and reduce pressure to cut school budgets from the top down. I'd really like to help with this project if/when we decide to follow such guidance.
Joaquin de la Raza May 06, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Can anyone confirm the rumor the superintendent is frantically interviewing for a new job? Is she going to run out after all the cuts she's made and leave us to deal with the result?

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