As a result of COVID-19, HUSD is anticipating lower state and federal education dollars, drop in local property tax
The Healdsburg Unified School District Board of Trustees held a special meeting on April 24 to take a look at how COVID-19 will affect the district’s budget, and while future implications are still uncertain, Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said it may take a while for local property taxes to feel the affect, but that state and federal education dollars could be diminished this year and the next.
“Obviously state educational revenues are largely dependent on income tax, which is going to change,” he said.
Vanden Heuvel and the district’s director of business services, Debbie Odetto, have been sitting in on several meetings with the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) over the past few weeks to discuss budget outlook and how to prepare the district’s finances for the uncertain times ahead.
“I wanted to lay the groundwork for what could be coming, but again, we don’t know how it is going to affect us in terms of property taxes in the long term,” Vanden Heuvel said.
HUSD is a community funded school district — also known as a Basic Aid District, meaning that local property taxes make up the district’s primary source of revenue instead of funding based on student attendance.
He noted that while the district is not as worried about property tax revenue for this year, there may be cause for concern for future years when property tax values start to show a hit from the coronavirus-impacted economy.
Vanden Heuvel analyzed what happened to property taxes and the district’s finances during the Great Recession of 2008 and said the effects weren’t felt until a few years later.
“We didn’t see a real sharp decline in any property taxes until two years later,” he said.
However, he noted that this particular crisis is a different environment and that there are no clear answers.
“We don't know exactly what it is going to look like in the long term for the district, other than any state and federal monies could be diminished in the current and next year,” Vanden Heuvel said. “We probably have to be a little more conservative in our estimates for property taxes going forward.”
He said he plans on reaching out to the county tax assessor’s office to see if they have any significant data for forecasting budgets for the next year in terms of revenue from property taxes.
School board trustee Mike Potmesil said he believes an economic downturn will certainly affect property taxes since homes may sell for less in the future.
In terms of state and federal funds for schools, Vanden Heuvel said SCOE is warning that there will likely be a decrease in funding and recommending that districts count on a 25% reduction in state revenue.
That would be catastrophic if we were not a community funded district,” Vanden Heuvel said, cautioning that it will still be a hit to the district’s budget if that is to occur.
“They also talked about the fact that there is a lobby right now, several districts asking the state, to do furlough days again for students so the district would then have less days in the year as a way to save money. That is what happened during the Great Recession,” he said.
He said the district could choose to do that or not, depending on where the finances stand.
“Then they talked of — and I don’t want to be an alarmist — that there is a provision in the law that should the state finances dip to a certain level from its original forecast to allow for certificated layoffs to happen on Aug. 15 as an emergency for school districts to save money,” he said. “Nobody ever wants to do layoffs, but this is the kind of environment that we are functioning in now and in terms of projected revenue losses.”
Vanden Heuvel emphasized that the district is not laying off people or having furlough days yet, but that these are the type of mitigation measures that are being discussed at the state level should the need arise.
“We all knew when this hit and people were going out of work that there is this economic cliff that we all went over, but municipalities, states and schools, are all going to be incurring severe budget problems as a result,” Vanden Heuvel said. “Thankfully we are not dependent on attendance for funding.”
Vanden Heuvel said that while it is difficult to forecast budgets when nobody knows how long this situation will last, it will be a “belt tightening” couple of years.
Changes to LCAP
During the meeting, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, Erin Fender, announced that the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) will not be due until Dec. 15 as per an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The LCAP drives the calculator for the LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula). Under the LCFF, school districts receive a uniform base grant for every student, adjusted by grade level. School districts receive additional supplemental grants for students with greater challenges, defined as low-income students, English learners and foster youth. Districts receive additional concentration grant funding when the numbers of these students enrolled in a district make up more than 55% of a district’s total enrollment. In a Basic Aid district, such as Healdsburg, the LCFF formula determines what the necessary funding level must be, but that money comes from local property taxes, rather than the state.
“The LCAP that we would normally bring to you in concert with the budget will not need your approval until Dec. 15,” Fender said. The LCAP would be for the first half of 2021.
The same executive order waives the requirement for the board to adopt the LCAP prior to adopting the budget, so they are separating the budget and the LCAP for this year only.
There will still be a budget report in June according to Fender. She said they will be able to use the old LCAP template from years past and most likely, there won’t be many changes.
The executive order also officially waives physical education minutes and the physical fitness testing that requires onsite instruction.
“The P.E. teachers at the junior high and the high school are still providing activities for kids and our enrichment teachers are making videos so we are still trying to get our kids active,” she said.
Fender said it is also likely that the 2020 California Data Dashboard will not be published at all, along with the local indicators.
The dashboard is composed of reports based on six state indicators: academic indicator; English learner progress; chronic absenteeism; graduation and suspension rate and college and career readiness. The dashboard is a component of the LCFF, which was passed in 2013.
“What they do expect to have then is a 2021 dashboard where they use next year's data, so hopefully we take all of the standardized tests next spring. They’d calculate the change from 2019 compared to 2021,” Fender explained.
While changes to the data dashboard are not yet official, Fender said that it is a likely scenario for the data dashboard.
The next regular HUSD school board meeting takes place May 20 at 6 p.m. via Zoom.