Schools

Los Altos School District Budget – Dim Transparency

Written by lalahpolitico

HIGHLIGHTS

Official Budget Lives Only at the Offices

If you want to see the real LASD budget that gets sent to the County and State, you will have to go the district offices and read the copy there (you can take fotos).  Randy Kenyon, Asst. Superintendent for Business Services, did prepare an alternate “friendly” version  for handout to the public attending the June 18 Board Meeting. But some folks think the Los Altos School District budget is less than transparent and timely. We can’t find the debt service interest payments in the long version of the  “friendly” budget document.

 Our Transparency Hero – Vladamir Ivanovich

Only one member of the public, Vladimir Ivanovich spoke on the topic of budget transparency at the June 18 LASD Board meeting.  As of Friday June 22,  the “friendly” version was not posted on the LASD web site. But as of June 26, there are links to Randy Kenyon’s versions. [Also the  State does eventually publish  fairly detailed budget and actuals for quite a few years back… on all school districts. ] See links below.

 Handyman and BCS Portables Lumped Together – Obscured?

There were a couple of facilities related tidbits during the meeting.  To keep facilities from decay, LASD pays a single handyman $150,000 a year (cost with all benefits.)  The city appears to be choosing which particular category to charge each year. One year it may be in x, another in y.  This year the $150K will be combined with the $90K to pay for BCS Egan and Blach changes, and tossed into the same  category.

 In Reserve Building Mode – Revenue Limit vs. Basic Aid

The County/State are requiring LASD to put aside $80M to build reserves.  This is up from $15M during the boom when assessed value was growing rapidly. Alternative to Bond Financing Being Investigated

Later, during the discussion of the Bond Measure,  Board President Mark Goines directed Randy Kenyon to investigate the costs and amounts that could be raised through a general obligation bond rather than a capital bond secured by addition property taxes (the capital bond that might be on the November 2012 ballot).

 

TRANSCRIPT Public input on Budget

Here are audio files of the full Board Meeting. The City Council Joint Meeting Review – The public comment starts at about 27:00 minutes

Apple type  file download

MP3 File download
One request to speak, Vladimir Ivanovich –

 

VLADAMIR IVANOVICH: You recall last year  (inaudible) I didn’t have a copy for public review and vote again this year. But this year I’m much less concerned about it because this year our budget is status quo. We expect everything  to more or less [inaudible] over time. But that is three years in a row, as far as I know, that the public has not had a copy of this. I don’t know if you folks had a copy of this before hand, apparently not. I mean it’s a lot to read in a half hour. And you can’t really expect much of public input (inaudible).

…three years in a row, as far as I know, that the public has not had a copy of this
…I mean it’s a lot to read in a half hour

The other thing I want to say, I think I mentioned it before, I really think you ought to consider adding two staff to your staff, to Jeff’s staff. Throughout the year there have been a number of occasions when we haven’t been able to do something because there hasn’t been any senior staff available. And Mark I believe you at one point you were talking about the Blueprint, and one of your concerns was “Who is going to do all this stuff?”

…we haven’t been able to do something because there hasn’t been any senior staff available

MARK GOINES: That’s Right.

VLADAMIR IVANOVICH: So that’s never been addressed as far as I know and I personally did not know [inaudible],need a financial person , need a facilities person [inaudible].  I’ll let Jeff make that call. But I would like to hear some discussion on that.

 

[VLAD’s QUESTION: I have a question on slide 14, is the property tax growth 2%, 4% or 6%?

ANSWER:  All the tax growth is net growth so it’s 2% and 4% assumptions.]

 part of our structural problem…is the number of volunteer hours we put in

VLADAMIR IVANOVICH: Now the structural problems update. Compared to other districts, there are two buckets that are not, ah, one had been mentioned, one has not   they are part of our structural problem…one is the number of volunteer hours we put in.  The PTA has mentioned this a couple of times, in fact I think it has been mentioned at every meeting except the last two or three…About 2 and a half million dollars, if you add it up at $15 bucks and hour.  TIME BUZZER.  The other one is the after hour classes that parents pay for.  There are some schools that don’t have after hour classes at all.  Compare to Bullis Charter. They have 2 or 3 hours.  So this is an expense that is borne by parents, but doesn’t appear here.  But it is actually, I think is part of the structural problem..

 

…other structural problem is the after hour classes that parents pay for.  There are some schools that don’t have after hour classes at all.  Compare to Bullis Charter. They have 2 or 3 hours

BILL COOPER:  Why is that a problem

[ PARAPHRASING VLADIMIR: If you wanted to have a budget that covered everything, you should value it.  Even if some of it doesn’t come out of our pockets directly.]

 

…….[LALAHPOLITICO. A couple of minutes was spent discussing  year-to-year changes in county required reserves. These have ranged from $15M in the past to a high of $80M this year.  The County expects the yearly reserve requirement to go start going down now, but slowly.]

 

RANDY KENYON:  [ sic I want to address]   Vladimir’s comment that the document here was not  really available to the public till tonight.  But that is not a legal requirement.    What is legally required is we put a notice in the newspaper that tells the public when our budget public hearing is going to be, and that we have documents and information at least 10 days prior.  Unfortunately, it’s in the form of state required forms. And the data is the same, in terms of the numbers, it’s just not very user friendly.  So I work hard in trying to make a user friendly document that reflects that data in here and so that when all is said and done you can look at it and make some sense of it. But the numbers is all here, and it has been available and ready if anyone wanted to come [ sic to the LASD offices ] and look at it for at least the last 10 days, probably longer than that.  So I know that’s not the answer Vladimir wanted to hear, but that’s how it works.

[later]

RANDY KENYON: We have a severe capital problem, I’d like to transfer $150,000 for deferred maintenance. We should decide which fund to charge the person to.  We can decide this annually.

MARK GOINES: This is just guidance to you [Kenyon] on how you categorize those expenditures….I am very stressed about the capital we are going to have to spend in to complete the improvements for BCS for the two campuses [ Blach & Egan for 2012-2013].  So I would recommend we put in the $150k and the $90k now.

complete the improvements for BCS for the two campuses [ Blach & Egan for 2012-2013].  So I would recommend we put in the $150k [for handyman]  and the $90k now

[LALAHPOLITICO: This seems to imply that installing the portables and what not for BCS over the summer will cost $90k.  It will be tucked in with some not yet mentioned category along with the fully burdened salary of the district handyman ($150k), and along with who knows what else. ]

 

[later]

Board adopted the budget as presented. Passes 4 -0. Tamara Logan was absent.

 

OUR INVESTIGATION INTO THE PROCESS
OF THE PUBLIC HEARING FOR A BUDGET

We decided to investigate the process of the public hearing for a school budget. Actually LASD may be exceeding State requirements by having the real budget document ready in the offices 10 days ahead of the hearing rather than just 3 days ahead. And providing friendly handouts at the meeting is not required at all. But we think such 50 years old standards of transparency are way out-of-date. The district did not post it’s friendly version of the budget for several days. [Randy Kenyon wins some kind of “clarity” award year after year for his school financial reporting.]

But as of June 26, these there documents are posted. And anyone can visit the offices to see the official budget.
Los Altos School District 2012-13 Budget, Executive Summary
Facts At A Glance
2012-13 Budget ( entire document) 

Source: www.cde.ca.gov/fg/sf/fr/calendar12district.asp

District board holds a public hearing/adopts budget

“The school district governing board shall hold a public hearing on the budget to be adopted. The agenda for that hearing shall be posted at least 72 hours prior to the public hearing and shall include the location where the budget will be available for public inspection. The date, time, and location of the public hearing and the dates and locations at which the district’s proposed budget may be inspected shall be published in a local newspaper by the county superintendent. The budget to be adopted shall be prepared in the format prescribed by the SSPI. 
[EC 42127(a)(1), EC 42127(i), EC 42126, EC 42103]

The board shall adopt a budget and, not later than 5 days after the adoption or by July 1, whichever occurs first, file the budget (utilizing the forms prescribed by the SSPI) with the county superintendent of schools. The budget and supporting data shall be maintained and available for public review. 
[EC 42126, EC 42127(a)(2)]”

[LALAHPOLITICO: The state has a custom application called SACS.  It is an application written for Microsoft Access.  That is apparently what generates the unfriendly 2012-2013 budget document that is on file in the Los Altos School District Offices. ]

Inequitable spending per student is widespread

Talk about inequitable spending on students. Our forays on the web found this map of basic aid/excess tax districts across the state. http://www.inewsource.org/2011/06/08/statewide-basic-aid-funding-maps/  Here is a page explaining revenue limit vs. basic aid. http://www.edsource.org/iss_fin_sys_revlimits.html

 

About the author

lalahpolitico

Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.