School District Prepares to Spend $105 Million in Bond Money, Holds Breath on State Funding

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    Orinda school officials presented a mixed report on school finances recently as they prepare to spend $105 million in voter-approved bonds while worrying about future funding from the state.
    At a presentation to the Orinda Intermediate school Parents Club last month, Superintendent Carolyn Seaton and Orinda Union School District Board Member Jason Kaune offered their vision and explained the process for spending of last November’s passage of two school bonds, Measures E and I. 
    The process is in its infancy but eight people have been appointed to the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC). Orindans can follow the committee’s progress and find meeting times and places on the district website: Orindaschools.org. The next steps are to hire a program manager to help the district manage the site improvements from the bond money, put the projects out to bid and hire an architect to draw up plans.
    “We don’t want to rush and we need to get input, but we need to move along quickly since construction prices are rising,” Seaton says. “We are sorting out what we can and cannot afford. We hope to create more opportunities for students to work together in and outside of the classroom. There are vision drawings and architects are drawing up pictures of what these ideas can look like.”  
    “We wanted more curriculum connected to the outdoors and wanted the buildings to reflect that,” Kaune says.
    The projects can be viewed on the district website (scroll down to OUSD Facilities Master Plan). As Seaton says, “There are more improvements than we can afford; we cannot afford everything.”
    Despite the excitement over bond money, school officials say they are concerned about future state funding. Kaune explained that previously schools were given money and told how to spend it in certain categories. Under a new formula called Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), in addition to a basic funding amount, schools are awarded more money based on three demographic factors: low income, English learners and/or foster youth.
    Thus, Orinda schools receive much less than the average California school, and consequently, are even more dependent upon parent financial support, officials say. The average California school receives $12,334 per student, per year from the state. Orinda schools without parent support receive $8,676. With local support, Orinda schools receive $12,695. By comparison, New York receives $23,712. “Even with our community giving so much we are barely above the average school in funding,” says Seaton.
    The current district 2018-19 budget projection with total funding of nearly $34 million has no deficit. However, the 2019-20 projection shows deficit spending of almost $330,000, and the 2020-21 budget projection has more than $400,000 in deficit spending. 
    “The budget now is a much better picture than a year ago, but we need a new funding infrastructure to not go below where we are,” Kaune says. “We are preparing, but the storm is coming.”
    To watch a Q&A video about Orinda school funding, go to https://tinyurl.com/y5qqtwo3.

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