Education funding safe — for now

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Education funding safe — for nowA budget deal struck between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature means that most of the K-12 funding remains intact for the next fiscal cycle. However, some funding withholdings and deferred payments will keep districts across the state in a state of flux for long-term planning.

“Relative to what was being presented before, this is good news,” said Dr. David Ostash, superintendent of Sierra Sands Unified School District. Newsom’s May Revise yielded what amounted to a 10-percent cut to education funding. When the legislature passed a budget without many of those cuts, Newsom withheld his support. However, the parties came to an agreement on Monday.

“This is a much more manageable solution for Sierra Sands in the short term, but deficit spending remains a challenge as revenues will fall short of expenditures,” said Ostash.

“What remains to be seen are the COLA that the state has been holding back, as well as funding deferrals which we anticipate resulting in a cash-flow challenge for us.”

Details of funding deferrals were not available at press time. Newsom remarked that some of the answers depend upon federal CARES act allocations, which remain unclear.

Ostash said that the district is working with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office to make sure short-term loans are available in the event that state funding is held up. “That’s the main challenge. But overall, we are still in a more positive situation to move forward.”

Even without comprehensive information and guidance, Sierra Sands continues to plan for what a return to school will look like in the coming term.

More than 2,000 families (representing upward of 4,000 of the district’s 5,200 students) responded to a survey that went out inquiring whether they would prefer an on-campus, online or hybrid delivery of education.

“In our original survey, we used the term ‘traditional’ model to infer full-time, on-campus education,” said Ostash.

“I think the word ‘traditional’ may be an outdated term now, since we know that our education model will look very different than the pre-March format we have been accustomed to.”

That said, he said that 53.5 percent of respondents preferred on-campus instruction, 8.4 percent preferred virtual instruction, and about 25.7 percent favored a hybrid model. The other 12 percent said that there was not enough information available for them to select an option.

Ostash said that one of the first steps to determining what next term’s instruction looks like will require meeting with the bargaining units of the three professional associations in the district. “This will have a number of impacts on our staff, and we need to negotiate the effects before we can refine the format.”

Sierra Sands is simultaneously preparing to implement an on-campus program that adheres to state guidelines for distancing and sanitation, as well as an on-line program for families that choose the virtual option.

“From an administrative perspective, the hybrid model will be the most difficult to adopt, so we are trying to understand how we can best serve that 25 percent who is asking for that option,” said Ostash.

“We are still trying to understand what the on-campus model looks like. But there is a long list of modifications for safety-minded protocols we still need to work through.

“And we haven’t begun to resolve what the components for food service, transportation, protective equipment and social-distancing look like.”

Detailed impacts to the district budget and operations will become more clear in the coming weeks, he said.

Story First Published: 2020-06-26