Whichever way I cut the numbers, every answer left both Ravenswood students and those of the merging district worse off.
No light dawned until Nov. 29, when the San Francisco County Controller announced the recognition of a $415 million windfall of property-tax revenue.
Did I just jump the rails on you? I'm sorry. California school funding is like that. If you care about some of the most-challenged school districts in the state, grab hold and let's go. We may not be able to "fix" Ravenswood, but we can finally give it a fighting chance.
In areas of high economic activity, local housing demand drives up rents and home prices. This causes property values to climb, which creates a swell in local property-tax coffers. This means districts around Ravenswood, which have seen property taxes increase since Facebook moved into the area, have received enough property-tax revenue to exceed the state's per-pupil funding target derived from its Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).
But Ravenswood, with its lower property-tax revenues, must rely on the state to fund the district to achieve the target per-pupil amount of $11,000. This means the district is on the same statewide, one-size-fits-all funding scheme as areas such as Modoc, Bakersfield and Red Bluff. LCFF, which supplements for student need — but not regional costs. This funding system recognizes Ravenswood's student disadvantage, but not the challenge of operating in our local economy, so while the state provides $8 million in supplements to Ravenswood to compensate for student disadvantage, it assumes that the challenge of attracting and remunerating custodians, teachers, administrators and staff is no higher than anywhere else.
Merging Ravenswood with another local district would dilute the percentage of high-need students, reducing the state's funding target by at least $4 million a year. Their combined existing property-tax revenue would then fall above the state target, so all students would simply have to share that pot.
Obviously, the school-funding scheme should have recognized excessive regional cost levels. The original 2008 blueprint for LCFF included a local cost-of-living index, but that was omitted as costly and contentious when LCFF was implemented in 2013.
OK, now how does San Francisco's announcement of a $415 million windfall tie into this?
The taxes paid on every property in the state are allocated into different education buckets. One set of allocations goes directly to the school and community college districts serving that property. The second goes into "ERAF," the county's Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund. Its contents are earmarked for schools and community colleges — however, ERAF can only be used to satisfy the State of California's obligations to local education. ERAF doesn't flow automatically to any particular school district, but only to districts within the county whose directly allocated property taxes fail to meet the state's pupil-spending targets. Most local districts — Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Las Lomitas, Sequoia — meet the targets and never see ERAF funding. But the less-advantaged districts around us — Ravenswood, Redwood City, San Jose — do.
Most California counties use up all their ERAF funding, so their school districts get topped up by the State General Fund. But a small handful — San Mateo, Marin, Napa, and Santa Clara Counties — actually generate enough local property tax to cover the State's entire LCFF obligation to their county's schools and community colleges. Known as "excess ERAF counties," they redistribute the remainder to other local government entities.
San Francisco has just joined their ranks. Spectacularly. Which is important, because San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties are among the most expensive counties in the state to live in. Conservatively, the cost of living there is 24 percent higher than the state average.
So, if the state recognized the regional cost of living in its LCFF school calculations, the least-advantaged districts in those counties would receive more property tax funding — each out its county's ERAF fund. Without this excess in San Francisco, recognizing regional cost differences would have cost the State General Fund money. Now, with "excess" education revenue available in all the highest-cost counties, not recognizing these differences is inexcusable.
Ravenswood, for example would have been entitled to an additional $7.4 million this year (on a total budget of about $43 million). Does that seem large? No, that is simply a conservative difference between the belt-tightening that Ravenswood has endured compared with any similar district in the 48 lower-cost counties. Think about it. How do you fix a district whose belt has become a waist-high tourniquet?
Local legislators, specifically Assemblymember Marc Berman and Sen. Jerry Hill, can make this change happen. Ask them to supplement LCFF for regional costs. Tell them you want your property taxes giving all local schoolchildren a fair chance, not just the lucky ones allowed to keep a reasonable share of property tax after the Legislature passed AB 8 in 1979. (Oops, jumped those rails again. Trust me. Tell them.)
This story contains 884 words.
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