MEASURE E: A bit on the budget
Alameda voters are being asked to decide whether to replace the Island’s existing school parcel taxes with a replacement tax that is expected to generate $14 million for Alameda’s schools. If the Measure E parcel tax is approved by voters, homeowners and owners of multi-unit buildings up to four units will pay $659 a year for the next eight years to fund schools, while commercial property owners and owners of multi-unit buildings with five units or more will pay 13 cents per square foot of lot per parcel. The mail-only ballot for Measure E is set to go out this week, and ballots are due in by June 22. The Island has put together a series of articles intended to flesh out issues associated with the tax.
Third of four parts.
The Board of Education’s decision to put a new parcel tax on the ballot – Alameda Unified’s third parcel tax request in a decade – has prompted questions about how much money the school district has and how it is spent.
District leaders have said they are asking for the new tax, which would replace both existing parcel taxes and increase the amount the district would collect, because millions of dollars in state funding reductions would force them to make draconian cuts that would damage the quality of education they can provide. But opponents have questioned that assertion, saying they think the district has more room to make cuts than its leaders admit.
The Island took a look at five years’ worth of budget data in an effort to provide a clearer picture of Alameda Unified’s budget. Most of the numbers come from Ed-Data, the state’s online resource for school district financial, demographic and performance data, and are unaudited budget numbers the school district reported to the state. (I also checked the Alameda County Office of Education’s District Finance Reports to confirm the numbers.) The 2009-10 numbers come from the district’s interim budget reports.
The numbers show that the district’s revenues have ridden a roller coaster over the past half-decade that is now making a sharp drop, while expenses have continued to rise.
Like most school districts, Alameda Unified’s main source of funding is the State of California. Of the $92.3 million in revenues the district received in 2008-09 per Ed-Data, $68 million came from the state (the amount includes $19.2 million in property taxes and money from local redevelopment agencies, according to Ed-Data, though that number wasn’t available in the county’s report).
But the state’s finances, like the rest of the economy, have been in a tailspin. And that has meant less money for everything, including schools.
Alameda Unified is on track to receive $8.5 million less from the state for this school year than it did in 2008-09, based on figures reported to Ed-Data and Alameda County and the district’s most recent budget estimates, and $15.3 million less from the state than it did in 2005-06.
Much of the decline can be attributed to cuts to the state’s “revenue limit” funding, which is the amount of money the state allows the district to spend to cover each student’s general educational expenses. The district’s “revenue limit” includes the property taxes I mentioned earlier, and the state chips in the rest. This year, district is facing an estimated revenue limit cut of $7.5 million according to the district’s most recent budget estimates.
Federal funding, which more than doubled between 2007-08 and 2008-09, is estimated to come in at about $6.6 million for the 2009-10 school year, a $2.7 million decline from 2008-09. But local revenue sources – which include the Measures A and H parcel taxes – have grown, from $5 million in 2005-06 to $14.9 million in 2008-09 (though the district has budgeted $14.1 million for this year).
As revenues have declined, the district’s expenses have gone up.
Alameda Unified’s primary expense is people. The cost of salaries and benefits for teachers, administrators and support staff rose by $5.3 million between 2005-06 and 2008-09, and could increase by another $3.1 million this year, the district’s most recent budget estimates show. Salaries and benefits are on track to cost the district $71.4 million of the $91.2 million they estimate they will spend, and could account for around 78 percent of the district’s budget this year.
Ed-Data shows the district with the full-time equivalent of 514.2 teachers and administrators and 355 support staff in 2008-09 (the site said the district had 28 administrators, a number that includes principals). In the meantime, the number of K-12 students the state was paying Alameda Unified to educate was 9,550, a county finance report shows.
Books and supplies are on track to cost more than double than the $2.25 million they were budgeted for (the district spent $3.7 million on books and supplies last year, according to Ed-Data and the county office of ed).
Services and other expenses – a category that includes consulting and professional services, housekeeping, insurance, travel and other expenses – could cost more than $13 million this year, up from $11.5 million in 2008-09 and $5.6 million in 2005-06, though the category includes a line item for $2.2 million in grant-funded contracts that wasn’t listed there in Ed-Data in 2005-06.
It’s hard to say exactly where the district will end up because it budget estimates fluctuate through the course of the year. At this point, district officials say they are using more than $10 million in prior years’ savings to bridge the gap – money they’ll have a whole lot less of to rely on next year.
The school board has signed off on $2.5 million in cuts for next year if the parcel tax passes, and $7.3 million if it doesn’t. In the meantime, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing additional cuts that could cost the district another $2.4 million next year – though Democrats in the state Legislature have reportedly put forward a budget proposal that could provide more money for education.
Thursday: Who pays what?