PUSD reserves steady, Pierson offers CSBA funding perspective

The Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) Governing Board of Trustees met June 19 in Quincy and heard budget estimates for 2019-20 that project steady reserves for the short term with possible declines by 2021.

“All funds are projected to have positive balances, we have no issues,” Deputy Superintendent of Business Services Lisa Cavin told the school board. “Our combined reserves are well above the required minimum level.”

Including the district’s anticipated expenditures between now and 2021, and with potential economic uncertainties taken into account, Cavin’s report listed reserve funds at 29 percent, or $8.7 million for the 2018-19 school year, a level higher than what the district requires.

In addition, the reserves are projected at 20.47 percent for 2019-20 when PUSD is anticipated to have more than $5.8 million on hand.

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By 2020-21, projection estimates may reach $2.9 million for a 9.75 percent reserve.

Cavin’s report explained that the governing board adopted a resolution in 2012-13 to set the minimum unassigned fund balance at a total of 20.5 percent or $3 million, whichever is higher.

Now that PUSD has moved from Basic Aid funding to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the board will consider a resolution reducing the minimum reserve level to 17 percent. At that level, the reserves will provide approximately two months of operating costs.

The LCFF is California’s school funding law that provides schools with a way to focus on student success.

Going over PUSD’s estimated actuals for 2019-20, Cavin talked about the importance of balancing the need to protect the school district’s reserve funds with the need to provide the best education options possible with limited resources.

And even though there are “no issues,” Cavin emphasized the school district’s conservative fiscal approach and said, “We do need to monitor cash flow.”

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CSBA leadership recognized

School funding was highlighted when the board congratulated Trustee Dwight Pierson for completing a Master’s in Governance education program offered by the California School Boards Association (CSBA).

Graduates of the CSBA program were honored in Redding recently for their “exceptional commitment to professional development in the service of students,” according to the association. The master’s program is a rigorous undertaking that prepares school board leaders with a strong understanding of the roles, responsibilities, knowledge and skills they need to effectively govern in their districts and produce better outcomes for students.

Coursework covers effective governance, student learning and achievement, school finance, collective bargaining, community relations and advocacy.

Pierson thanked the school board for the opportunity to represent Plumas County at CSBA and complete the master’s program for a variety of reasons, including an invitation to showcase the Outdoor Core science education curriculum.

Full, fair school funding needed

School funding was a top priority at the CSBA level and the “Full and Fair Funding” campaign to invest in California’s future through education is raising awareness of this vital issue, Pierson reported.

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“Full and fair funding is paramount!” Pierson said. “We went through all the years of the recession with steep funding cuts and though funding levels have been rising and the legislature talks about putting more money into education, we are only just now getting back up to the 2005 to 2008 school funding levels. The legislators have only gotten us up to where we were 12 years ago.”

The funding campaign asks the state to fund schools at “just the national average” to increase funding by $1,961 per pupil. For a classroom of 25 students, that would mean an additional $49,025 for student support services.

Trustee Traci Holt, clerk of the board, echoed Pierson’s concerns.

“When you look at where we rank,” she said, “we’re the fifth largest economy in the world and yet we rank near the bottom in school funding.”

Holt mentioned Governor Gavin Newsom’s Future of Work Taskforce and the pressing need for a “toolkit” with the right tools in it to prepare students.

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“They need to invest in education across the board,” Holt said. “Half the jobs coming in the next 15 years have not even been created.”

Other board members agreed that school funding priorities are urgent and supported the governor’s commitment and recent statements that “something needs to change.”

Student attendance is essential

Further discussion emphasized PUSD’s efforts to reach school families and impress the importance of regular attendance. Coming to school ensures better funding for the sites and also gives students the best opportunity to succeed and build skills for their own futures.

Absenteeism costs PUSD hundreds of thousands of dollars each year because the schools do not receive any Average Daily Attendance (ADA) monies when a student does not come to school for any reason, even a day out for medical appointments. Excused absences have not been funded in many years, according to the district, so a note from home won’t help school funding.

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Trustee Holt urged parents to work with their student’s teacher to create a plan to make up class work as part of an independent study-at-home option if they need to be gone from school.

Students will benefit by keeping up, not falling behind their classmates, and school sites may receive the ADA funds they need to continue offering PUSD’s educational programs. Families are encouraged to talk with their teachers and principals for help to keep students engaged and in regular attendance.