Healdsburg Unified School District

Another natural disaster has put a halt to the discussion on the possibility of re-implementing interdistrict transfers for the Healdsburg Unified School District.

Earlier this year the district started talks on exploring the possibility of once again opening the district to interdistrict transfers after changing their policy in 2009. The district had planned a town hall meeting on the topic for Feb. 26 to garner input from parents, teachers and staff, however, due to the floods the meeting was canceled and the issue was set aside.

Now, the discussion is once again being put to a halt due to a potential loss in property tax revenue from the Kincade Fire.

Community funded versus state funded

The Healdsburg Unified School District is a community-funded district, meaning most of the district’s funds come from local property taxes, while state and federal funding make up a small percentage of funding.

Most school districts are state funded. The only other districts in Sonoma County that are community funded are Geyserville, Alexander Valley, Sonoma and a few other small ones like the Kenwood district.

“The state uses a calculator based on your attendance and your demographics to allot a dollar amount per student that you receive every year as a school,” Healdsburg Unified School District Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel explained at the district’s Nov. 20 board meeting.

This calculator is called a Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

According to Vanden Heuvel, if the district were LCFF funded, its allotment would be $11,000 per student, yet “As a community-funded district we’re at $16,800 per student.” 

Vanden Heuvel said the district is community funded because Healdsburg’s property taxes surpass what the district would get if they were funded with LCFF.

He stressed that this funding mechanism is not a choice.

“The minute you are $1 over what you would get in LCFF, your district flips to basic aid,” Vanden Heuvel explained.

This flip to community funding in 2009 is one of the reasons why the district stopped allowing transfers.

In a Jan. 23 Tribune article Vanden Heuvel said of the change, “In 2009, the district was in financial distress and due to the recession, the state was giving us less education dollars and we went to the community-funded status and at that point we decided that it (funds) should go to students within our district boundaries.”

Kincade implications on funding

“Because of the Kincade Fire revenues,” Vanden Heuvel said. 

A loss in property value could mean a loss in tax revenue, in other words, a loss in funding for the district. 

“Much of the fire happened out in Alexander Valley and in the Chalk Hill area. We do not know the loss of property value that happened as a result and therefore, the loss of revenue we’ll have,” he said. “We do know that in the first year there will be a fair share of property value loss shared amongst all taxing entities in the county, much like what happened in 2017 in the Tubbs Fire,” Vanden Heuvel said. 

The Tubbs Fire resulted in about a $400,000 hit to the district’s budget due to a loss in tax revenue, although no structures burned in the district. 

“This is different,” Vanden Heuvel said. “Structures in our district were lost. People lost homes, wineries were lost, and we don’t know what the impact that is going to have on our budget for this year and the year after that.”

He said they hope to receive the initial figures in the next three weeks from the county for this year. The numbers will be a preliminary estimate. 

Consequently, “Due to uncertainty in local revenues, and the whole reason why the district decided not to have interdistrict transfers was a philosophy of Healdsburg dollars focused on district students, I am proposing that we table this discussion for now,” Vanden Heuvel said.

Families want options on where to send their students

While it may not be feasible for the district to entertain the possibility of interdistrict transfers right now, local business owner Cort Munselle was at Wednesday’s school board meeting to advocate for interdistrict transfers.

Munselle, who runs the Munselle Civil Engineering and Land Surveying firm in town, lives on the outskirts of Cloverdale and wants to have the option to be able to send his children to Healdsburg Unified School District schools.

“I have two daughters who attend St. John’s, one of which is in seventh-grade, and we’ll soon be needing to make a decision on where to send her to high school,” Munselle said. “I own a business in Healdsburg. I own two properties and pay taxes in Healdsburg, and we are very much a part of this community and I feel strongly that this should be an option for us to consider.”

School Board President Jami Kiff asked what the ability of the board is to allow geographic openings or to allow business owners and property owners an exception for transferring their students to Healdsburg.

Vanden Huevel said unfortunately, exceptions can’t be made.

“I am sympathetic. I know Cort’s family really well, they’ve been here forever and they are big supporters of our schools. He pays taxes in town, but the state law around interdistrict transfers does not allow for us to make an exception for that,” Vanden Heuvel said.

School Board Vice President Donna del Rey said she would like to revisit the issue as soon as possible.

While she said she understood that it isn’t the best time to consider interdistrict transfers due to revenue uncertainty, she said, “I would hesitate to put this off for two years.”

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