Parents voiced their frustrations Tuesday night at a town hall meeting after learning Porter Ranch Community School would receive only a fraction of the money expected for becoming a “pilot school” next year.
The Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council held the meeting at Shepherd of the Hills Church. An estimated 400 people, including students holding signs, tried to attend the meeting. Many people were forced to wait outside in the hallway because the room was full.
“We needed a school up here for so many years, and it’s great to build it but you can’t then pull the rug out from under it and expect it to operate with the same programs and classroom instruction on a shoestring budget,” Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander said.
Los Angeles Unified school board member Tamar Galatzan said the K-8 school, which opened two years ago, began looking for additional money because they could not operate within the budget provided by the state. School administrators anticipated their $60,000 in planned funding would be reduced next year, and the idea of converting to a “pilot school,” which included additional funding and more autonomy, was raised.
Under the funding model at the time, pilot schools received a dollar allocation per student. The LAUSD Budget Services and Financial Planning Division informed the school it would have received $249,500 based on its enrollment of 720 students in 2012-13. With LAUSD projecting the school’s enrollment will reach 1,100 next year, Porter Ranch expected even more funding. The school applied for pilot status in October.
Earlier this year when LAUSD sent principals their school’s starting budget for 2014-15, Porter Ranch was informed it would receive only $24,900. Principal Mary Melvin said she initially thought a zero was missing, but the drastically reduced funding was actually a result of the new Local Control Funding Formula signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in July 2013.
“It basically threw out the old way we funded education and replaced it with a different system,” Galatzan said. “One of the downsides to it is a lot of these secret buckets of money that schools were using, including the charter school block grant and the pilot model, were no longer available as funding models.”
The regulations for implementing the new formula were approved in January, and Galatzan and LAUSD officials maintain they were not aware until then that pilot funding would be cut. Carl Petersen, who is running against Galatzan in next year’s election, said LAUSD never should have provided funding estimates to the school community when they knew changes were coming.
LA Unified passed a “hold harmless” policy so that schools will receive at least as much money next year as they did this year. Established pilot schools will continue to receive funding, oftentimes hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, but Porter Ranch does not fall under the policy since it was not a pilot last year.
“It’s not fair to the district that we thought the state was offering us money and then they took it from us,” Galatzan said. “It’s incredibly frustrating, but the state changed the rules on all of us.”
The new law ensures increased funding for schools with low-income students, English learners and foster youth. LA Unified overwhelmingly supported the new funding formula because most schools in the district benefit. Schools in more affluent areas are likely to lose money under the new formula. Porter Ranch does not receive federal Title I funding because more than half of its students are not low-income.
“We are a very poor district, and schools up here are an outlier,” Galatzan said. “Because the schools are so high-performing, everyone’s like, they’re not on fire, we don’t have to pay attention to them.”
Galatzan said her colleagues look at high-performing schools in the West Valley and assume they do not need funding.
“I don’t think the vast majority of teachers have any idea what it’s like at a school where you’re holding a fundraiser in order to buy toilet paper,” she said.
The crowd cheered when one audience member asked about the possibility of seceding from LAUSD. Several people, including neighborhood council members, talked about driving to Sacramento and protesting the law.
“None of us want to see children who are poor go without food. That’s not what we’re asking, but because our children have food, should we have to suffer educationally speaking?” Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council member Becky Leveque said.
According to a parents advocacy group, the budget cuts will make it difficult to pay for school supplies and materials and intervention for at-risk students. Melvin, the school’s principal, said the Korean dual-language program at the school is not in jeopardy as some parents feared.
“We’ll continue to educate your children and keep them safe at the standards you’ve grown to expect and require. That’s going to be my promise to you all as your principal,” Melvin said.
On May 21, the superintendent authorized a $57,000 augmentation to add a second administrator at Porter Ranch, and the district has been working to fund four positions which were missing from the initial budget. As a result of discussions prompted by lobbying from the school, the budget may temporarily be increased to $158,000 as a result of “hold harmless” funds, additional library aide and middle school class-size reduction funds and $60,000 in funds left over from last year.
John Lee, Englander’s chief of staff, questioned why Porter Ranch does not directly receive money from developer fees. A developer planning to build new gated communities in the area pays approximately $3.20 per square foot to LAUSD – an estimated $10,000 per home. LAUSD officials said they would look into it.
Erik Richardson, a senior field representative for Assemblymember Scott Wilk, said their office will try to help, possibly introducing legislation that would close some loopholes in the funding formula.