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Schools In Rich Neighborhoods Receive More Tax Dollars

A joint investigation by KPBS and the Watchdog Institute at San Diego State has revealed some public schools in San Diego County receive millions of additional dollars in public funding. In fact, some school districts have seen their budgets increase in recent years while others have laid off staff.

Audio

Aired 5/19/11

Some public schools in San Diego County receive millions of additional dollars in public funding. In fact, some school districts have seen their budgets increase in recent years while most others have laid off staff.

Transcript

— Gerry Kirkeby points to the three Spanish-style buildings, brightly white-washed, lining a leafy corner of one the country’s wealthiest communities, Rancho Sante Fe.

“We just recently built a huge new modern, wonderful school,” said Kirkeby, a real estate agent and long time resident of Rancho Santa Fe.

R. Roger Rowe Elementary and Middle Schools in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.
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Above: R. Roger Rowe Elementary and Middle Schools in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.

“People come here from all over the world. This is one of the finest communities in the United States,” Kirkeby said.

Rancho Santa Fe is also home to two of the highest-ranking public schools in California, which, despite a state budget crisis and cuts to public education, have seen a 25 percent increase in revenue since 2005.

Special Feature Funding Maps for Basic Aid Districts

To search the maps, click on a district to view revenue and per student funding information about that district. The highlighted districts are basic aid districts.

A KPBS/Watchdog Institute investigation found the budgets of eight of San Diego County’s 42 public school districts have been steadily increasing in recent years – some of them providing thousands more dollars in per pupil funding than other publicly funded schools in less affluent neighborhoods.

The increases are not from privately run parent foundations, but rather, they are property tax dollars.

The districts, a majority of which are located in North County neighborhoods, received between $100 and $5,800 in additional revenue for each of their students last year – and that trend will continue next year, according to San Diego County Department of Education statistics. (Story continues below)

A KPBS/Watchdog Institute investigation found the budgets of eight of San Diego County’s 42 public school districts have been steadily increasing in recent years. Some of them provide thousands more dollars in per pupil funding than other publically funded schools in less affluent neighborhoods.

Watchdog Institute & KPBS

Above: A KPBS/Watchdog Institute investigation found the budgets of eight of San Diego County’s 42 public school districts have been steadily increasing in recent years. Some of them provide thousands more dollars in per pupil funding than other publically funded schools in less affluent neighborhoods.

The extra funding comes from a series of court rulings and propositions during the past 40 years that have created a convoluted and, according to some, inequitable system of public education funding in California.

“Inequity has been the basis for many court challenges, as you know with Serrano in California, that was the basis of the complaint,” said Deborah Verstegen, an education professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the author of a national study on education finance.

In the 1968 case Serrano v. Priest, the California Supreme Court ordered the state to address the gap between schools in rich and poor neighborhoods. Wealthy neighborhoods could raise more money from property taxes for their schools than poor neighborhoods.

In an effort to close that education funding gap, the state introduced revenue limits in 1972, which put a ceiling on how much money schools could raise.

Then, the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 caused property tax revenues to drop. Most neighborhoods didn't and still don't raise enough money in local property taxes to reach their school revenue limit. So, the state has made up the difference.

But rising property values over the decades and shrinking state funding to schools have once again created a widening gap between rich and poor districts.

“Some districts, very few, about 124 or so in 2009-2010, have more than enough property taxes to meet their entitlement,” said Margaret Weston, an analyst with the Public Policy Institute of California. “They used to be called basic aid, and now we tend to call them excess tax districts.”

Basic aid or excess tax districts get to keep the extra property tax money, said Weston, who has studied the funding sources of the state’s 978 districts.

In Rancho Santa Fe, the additional funding helps the district reduce class size from a student-teacher radio of 32–1 to 17–1. The school district also hires music and art specialists. An additional 10 percent of the district’s operating budget comes from a parent-run private foundation. 

State legislators have known about the inequity for years, and for the past two years have taken away some of the extra funding from the excess tax districts. But, not enough to level the playing field.

The state cut about $23 million in basic aid from the districts’ budgets in 2009 and 2010. During those same years, the districts’ combined local revenue hit $505 million.

“Variations in funding can also mean variations in opportunities to do well,” Verstegen said.

Rancho Santa Fe Superintendent Linda Delaney said rather than take away opportunity from her kids, the state ought to be providing it for all kids.

“I think it’s a funding issue and a systems issue,” Delaney said.

But for now, with a budget crisis in California, and more education cuts looming, that opportunity might come at too high a price – owning a home in Rancho Santa Fe.

 “There’s a fixer upper right now I think for 965 (thousand dollars),” Kirkeby said.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 19, 2011 at 7:47 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

Adminstrators and teachers can claim "it's about the kids" until the day they die, but the hard, unfortunate fact is that it's all about the money. Example: SUHSD does NOT offer computer science classes while school districts in OC do. So when a 4 point plus student from SUHSD goes to UCLA to major in Computer Science, he/she is already a step behind the OC student. It's that simple.

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Avatar for user 'hopeheadsd'

hopeheadsd | May 19, 2011 at 8:34 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

Missionacomplished, in the long run its totally irrelevant if the kid is a step behind when going to UCLA for CompSci vs an OC kid. The only factors that make a difference is that it might cost a course more. Its such a non-issue. What is the issue is when parents get so worried about things like that and MAKE it an issue. WE have become overly obsessed with inequality in education that it yields nothing more than disdain between the haves and have nots. Its like saying kids that go to Lincoln High NEVER get into ivy league schools or have the skills to even get into University. With that kind of mentality, we will never find the cure for cancer or doing anything relevant to human society. You are just raising a kid to chase the latest trends for employment. And we wonder why we export engineering jobs? Because it was never en vogue to be an engineer so attendance levels have dropped significantly. That simple.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 19, 2011 at 10:31 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

4.2?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 19, 2011 at 10:32 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

It is not a matter of a course or two more, it is the fact that Computer Science classes are NOT currently offered by SUHSD.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | May 19, 2011 at 11:05 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

Money for schools should be evenly dispersed because we are not doing the next generation any favor by cutting back on teachers and school programs. If we throw money in the direction of rich neighborhoods, the poor will never see light at the end of the tunnel. They are as important as any neighborhood in America.

Don't forget, too many Americans are one check away from homelessness. If we don't provide each American with a fair education, the uprising we witness in the Middle East will happen here in the U.S.

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Avatar for user 'dforrest'

dforrest | May 19, 2011 at 12:54 p.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

The article headline is very misleading. These districts are not getting more money from the state. This is funding coming out of the pockets of residents within the school district. Their money should be going to their local schools. To take locally obtained property taxes and give it other districts is unfair to those that are paying the higher taxes.

Cut their state funding, but local taxes should stay local.

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Avatar for user 'Joanne Faryon'

Joanne Faryon, KPBS Staff | May 19, 2011 at 1:54 p.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

Hello Everyone,

This is a great discussion! I just wanted to point a few things out:

- The state constitution does ensure local property taxes stay local. They do not leave San Diego County, however, the state does determine how they are allocated in the county. Here's a good blog post that explains http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/mar/09/...

- A California Supreme Court ruled back in 1968 the state had to address the gap between schools in rich and poor neighborhoods. No matter what side of the debate you're on (that district property taxes should stay in district) the court has already established the law. The question now is, does the current system, where some districts have almost twice the funding for their kids, violate this law?

I'm trying to find out and it seems lawmakers are not quick to answer this question. Why this inequity has been allowed to exist (and exist for years) when the law was so clearly defined decades ago?

Whether you agree with that 1968 court decision is another debate - and perhaps one we should also be having. According an education finance expert I spoke with from the University of Nevada, Reno, this issue is being decided in court rooms across the country.
Joanne

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