AUSD 2020 Measure A Addendum

This is an Addendum article to my series analyzing the financing of the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) in the run up to the vote on AUSD Measure A on March 3, 2020.  If the measure passes, it will effectively increase the current annual parcel tax from $0.32 to $0.585 per sq.ft. with certain limits and qualifications.

(1) ADA or Average Daily Attendance

is, according to the California Department of Education, “the total days of student attendance divided by the total days of instruction” (https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/fd/ec/currentexpense.asp).  This is the most common denominator used to measure and compare resources in the state public education system. It is not the same as enrollment.  Enrollment is simply the number of students registered in a school district near the beginning of the school year.  ADA takes into account the fact that, on any given day, some number of students are out sick or have some other unplanned absence.  It also accounts for the fact that during the school year, some students are moving into or out of the district, or are dropping out.  So ADA tries to smooth out these inconsistencies to give a rough idea of how many students are going to school in a district on an average day. It also allows us to make more meaningful comparisons between districts of different sizes because our numbers are roughly on a per-student basis.  This series will express most figures in terms of “per-ADA” but if it is easier, just think “per-student” and your understanding will be close enough in most cases.

(2) LCFF or Local Control Funding Formula

In the 2013/14 budget year, California quietly (for those of us not involved) overhauled the way state school districts receive their basic funding.  According to their website (https://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/lc/lcffoverview.asp, Accessed Feb 11, 2020), “the LCFF establishes uniform grade span grants in place of the myriad of previously existing K–12 funding streams, including revenue limits, general purpose block grants, and most state categorical programs”.  The resulting framework constructs a complicated formula for how school districts qualify for basic funds plus additional aid to help provide for special needs students like those from low-income families and those who are not proficient in English.  This is a very rich and complicated area that I intend to produce a Factual Background article for in the future.  For readers of this series, it most important to understand that this framework is the cornerstone of local education funding in modern California and along with Prop.13 property tax controls, explain a lot about why things are the way they are.

(3) General Fund

The California Department of Education publishes a formidable tome called the “California School Accounting Manual” (https://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/ac/sa/documents/csam2019complete.pdf, Accessed Feb 11, 2020).  According to the manual: “The general fund is the main operating fund of the LEA. [Local Education Agency which includes Unified School Districts” (p.8)  Except where indicated, when I’m quoting financial figures for school districts I am talking about the general fund.  There are several things to note about the general fund.

First, as it says, it is for “operating funds”.  This means it is used to pay salaries, buy books and fund all the other day-to-day expenses in running a school district.  It is not to be used for capital projects like building, expanding or doing extensive repairs such as we have recently seen with Alameda High School.  That comes out of a separate “capital fund”, which is funded through issuing debt authorized by bond measures and not from ongoing revenue levies like property or parcel taxes.

Second, the general fund is intended to be segregated into “Restricted” and “Unrestricted” funds.  Restricted funds are ones that can only be used for certain purposes.  For example, if Measure A passes, the funds raised can only be used for salaries (in theory) so these would be accounted for as Restricted.  For simplicity, I am playing a little fast and loose when talking about these general fund money; I don’t think it generally has big effect on my conclusions but I must caveat it.

Last, because I am not considering other operating funds, it is possible that I am missing some details; this is something I hope to address the down road with more ongoing analysis.