Thursday, October 11, 2007


▼As LAUSD slips further and further down the political slippery slope and deeper and deeper into the educational quicksand – and some dream about how much better/simpler/whatever it would be if we only broke up LAUSD into more manageable parts – there might be some value into looking at how the next school district up the 101 is faring. - smf


by Stephanie Bertholdo | Agoura Hills Acorn

October 11, 2007 - LVUSD School Superintendent Don Zimring, center, describes the school district's funding roller coaster at a recent Calabasas Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Joining him at the event are, from left, Carol Washburn, Calabasas Chamber President/CEO; Terilyn Finders, LVUSD Board of Education president; Cindy Iser, school board member; and Stephanie Warren, Calabasas Chamber of Commerce.

California education has been on a funding rollercoaster ride for the past five years, according to Las Virgenes Unified School District Superintendent Donald Zimring.

Zimring was the keynote speaker at the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Sept. 27. He presented information on the state of California education.

A vast majority of school funding comes from the state budget, not local taxes, Zimring said.


Education has taken hits from the state since 2002, Zimring said.

"California has one of the highest set of standards yet the lowest per pupil funding levels," Zimring said.

The fluctuations in local school funding are multifaceted.

But the threat of undermining Proposition 98, a constitutional guarantee of minimal education funding, prompted the district to pass Measure E, the $98 per year parcel tax that adds a little stability to school budgets.

The tax, Zimring said, brings in about $2 million worth of revenue to the schools each year.

When the measure was passed in 2004, state officials had reneged on Prop. 98 and Las Virgenes schools were shortchanged $2 million. The parcel tax is up for renewal on Nov. 6.

"We've gone up, we've gone down," Zimring said about funding. Last year, the legislature approved 24 new categories for funding. Every district received money for art, music and physical education, a big chunk of the funds being onetime only opportunities or grants. This year, no money is in the offing, he said.

"Clearly, the state has lost its focus," Zimring said.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has dubbed 2008 the "Year of Education." ("ED in 08" is being financed by the (Eli) Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.) Zimring is taking a wait-and-see approach on the initiative.

California's economy continues to expand but at a moderate pace, Zimring said. "We're the eighth largest economy in the world," he said. But, California used to have the sixth largest economy.

"The economic engine has slowed," Zimring said. Federal education funding continues to decline, he said.

Zimring also discussed the flawed mechanism behind local school funding. Schools are paid according to student attendance on a daily basis. "It's tush and cush funding," Zimring said. If there's a flu epidemic, the school loses money- a lot of money, he said.

Besides losing funding when a child is sick, half the school districts in California stand to lose significant funding due to declining enrollment, Zimring explained. Making matters worse is the usual trend of older families moving out of areas to allow for younger families with schoolaged children to move in and attend local schools is not happening anymore, Zimring said.

"(Young families) can't afford to live here," Zimring said, even though real estate prices seem to be coming down. Zimring said a UCLA study forecasts a steady decline in housing prices through mid-2009.

To illustrate his point, Zimring said if the district lost two students at every school for a total of 30 students, the school would continue to have set operating costs. Yet, the loss of 30 students translates into a loss of $180,000.

The rise of charter schools has also put a strain on public schools, Zimring said. Charter schools are public schools but the same funding mechanism applies and the district loses funding. The competition between charter schools and typical public schools can be the impetus for creative programs on both ends, Zimring said.

Had the Las Virgenes Community Learning Center opened as a charter school as first intended rather than an alternative elementary school within the district, millions of dollars would have been lost, Zimring said. "We created the school in 16 weeks," he said.

Although the Las Virgenes district earned the highest API (Academic Index Scores) in the region through standardized testing, Zimring said the district must continue to strive for improvement or face the possibility of state imposed penalties.


Zimring believes public schools need to keep up with the times and use technology to deliver the three R's. He said podcasts, greater access to the Internet on campus, and classes that resemble how students really live will be necessary. He wants students to feel connected to school, and expects to exploit every tech trick in the book to create stronger bonds between students and schools.

Measure G bonds will pay for expansion of the district's bandwidth, Zimring said.

"We need the capacity for the future, he said.

The $128 million bond measure is also paying for the two new Performing Arts centers, which are expected to be completed in 2009. The Lindero Canyon Middle School renovation is scheduled to be done by 2008.

Zimring has some creative ideas up his sleeve to attract and retain up-and-coming great teachers. He said he'd like to offer low-cost teacher housing on school-owned property. (The city of Agoura Hills already offers mortgage subsidies for public employees including teachers.)

Zimring hopes to expand the city school partnerships. The bond measure paid for new laptops, projectors, and other technology found in all Las Virgenes schools, but the cities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Westlake Village and Hidden Hills contributed about $600,000 to train teachers to effectively use the technology in their classrooms.

In addition to city/school partnerships, Zimring hopes to partner with local businesses and industries.

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