MV Whisman made basic aid district | May 22, 2009 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - May 22, 2009

MV Whisman made basic aid district

Switch means elementary schools get most of their support from property taxes

by Casey Weiss

Further complicating the financial uncertainty over Mountain View Whisman's future, the local elementary school district recently became a basic aid district, and will now be funded primarily through local property taxes.

The state uses a complex system to fund public schools, requiring that each district receives a minimum level of funding. Property taxes help to support the schools, but if these taxes do not provide enough money, the state funds the remainder by providing a direct payment per pupil.

Mountain View Whisman chief financial officer Craig Goldman uses the common "bucket" analogy to explain funding. If property taxes fill the bucket, the district is basic aid, and gets to keep the surplus. But if property taxes do not fill the bucket, the district is a revenue-limit district, meaning the state adds enough money to fill up the bucket.

Until recently, the Mountain View Whisman School District was a revenue limit district, meaning it received the majority of its funding from the state. But the district found out this spring that it will became a basic aid district, and should be officially certified in July.

The state, facing a big deficit, is cutting back the amount of funding required to become a basic aid district. Mountain View Whisman property taxes meet this smaller requirement.

"The amount of money the state is allocating," Goldman said, "is projected to be less than the amount of property tax we will be collecting this year."

The Los Altos School District and Mountain View-Los Altos High School District are both basic aid. Since Mountain View Whisman was a revenue limit district, it previously took bigger hits during budget cuts, since the state targeted many of its reductions at revenue limit districts and cut back the amount of money it provided per pupil.

Now Mountain View Whisman administrators say the change in funding systems could protect them from some hits as the state continues to slash schools to balance its budget.


Posted by Chas, a resident of Whisman Station
on May 27, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Does the county have enough money to pay basic aid funding to the Mountain View Whisman School District?

Posted by still?, a resident of Castro City
on May 27, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Is there still enough money to build a new school for that choice program??

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community
on May 27, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Chas, I don't think the county is involved. It has to do with how much the state thinks the district is entitled to per student (the "revenue limit") and how much of the property tax revenue gets allocated to the district. When the district's cut of the property tax revenue meets or exceeds what the state decrees your revenue limit is (different for every district), you become basic aid. Just means that the state isn't backfilling the gap between the property tax amount the district gets per student and the "revenue limit" amount. So if the property tax revenues increase, the district gets to keep the extra (above the "revenue limit" amount). If the tax revenue fall below the revenue limit amount again, the district is no longer "basic aid" and just gets the revenue limit amount. Weird system, I don't think any other state has one like it.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 27, 2009 at 8:37 pm

There is much more to this story. A big point missed by the Voice is that basic aid district don't look favorably on outsiders' children filling up the schools. The less students the better particularly if those students parents aren't contributing to the tax base. Los Altos Elementary aggressively routes out such interlopers and freeloaders under the basic aid model.

Posted by QM, a resident of North Whisman
on May 27, 2009 at 8:40 pm

I have been helping to fill that bucket for over 12 years. I think that it is interesting that in in the worst of economic times, we have suddenly filled the bucket.

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on May 27, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Enough, so what? Taking interdistrict transfers is a CHOICE, not some sort of moral obligation. MVWSD isnt choosing to take many now anyway.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Waverly Park
on May 28, 2009 at 12:57 pm

When a district is NOT basic aid, it is actually kind of beneficial to accept transfer students, since the state pays you a set amount for every child in a seat; the more kids, the more money you get. It doesn't cost the district more, we get the same dollar amount from the state for a kid from Sunnyvale as for the kid from Mountain View. When you are basic aid, you get one pot of money to divide up whether you have 3000 kids or 5000, so you don't want to take transfers.

Los Altos Elementary district has still been accepting transfers in; they have been borderline basic aid for the past couple of years, bouncing in and out, so I guess they didn't feel it was necessary to eliminate all transfers. This may be the case with MVWSD for a few years as well, until it is certain that they are comfortably in basic aid and will stay there; I don't know, time will tell.

The MVLA High School district is solidly basic aid, and has been for a long time; they are the ones who are very rigorous about verifying that their students are residents of the district.

Posted by Gloria, a resident of another community
on May 28, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Hi QM,

This isn't a case of property tax revenues suddenly increasing enough to make MVWSD basic aid. Revenues don't have to rise because the State reduced the size of the bucket.

Posted by BasicAidMayOrMayNotBeMyFriend, a resident of Shoreline West
on May 30, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I've been filling the bucket for MVWSD without drawing from it (since I have no kids) for a few years. In my naive opinion (?) I'd like all of the local prop tax revenues to go to local schools (geez, call me radical.) The above article implies that the state decides the proportion of property taxes that are allowed to go to local school districts (which sounds a bit strange to me.) Could someone elaborate how the state / county decides what to do with the rest of my property tax that doesn't go towards local schools within my district?

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on May 31, 2009 at 12:05 am

the state fills the bucket *past* what property taxes would do alone in most districts. In basic aid, local property taxes go above what the state provides. So, basic aid IS our friend.

Posted by True Friend, a resident of another community
on May 31, 2009 at 12:33 pm

The bottom line-sufficient and effective funding is the true friend to schools and communities, not an arbitrary status. Read on for an explanation.

Eric is right with one qualification. Basic aid status is *eventually* better than revenue limit status. A basic aid school district keeps all of its property tax revenue, even if the revenue is more than the revenue limit amount, but it's not really helpful until revenue is significantly higher than the limit.

For example, let's say the property tax revenue for MVWSD is $1000 per student. Let's also say that last year, the revenue limit set by the State was $1001 per student. MVWSD would be considered a revenue limit district and the State would fill up the bucket with $1 per student. The reason MVWSD is basic aid now is that the State lowered the revenue limit amount. Using my example, lets say they lowered it to $999 per student. So now, MVWSD gets to keep all their property tax revenue and gets basic aid status but the funding per student is essentially the same. You could see how a district might become basic aid even if funding decreased.

Basic aid status does make an immediate difference in how a district would want to treat inter-district transfers which was addressed in an earlier post.

Posted by Steve Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 1, 2009 at 9:44 am

If MVWSD ($13.5 B assessed valuation in taxes) actually got it's share of most of the $3 B in assessed valuation from the Googleplex commercial area (Shoreline Community) it would be about 17% above basic aid. Then this district could compete in per-pupil spending with its neighbors in Los Altos and Palo Alto. Don't think the best teachers switch jobs 'just for the money'? Think again. The 'Dump District' also is currently set up to keep its taxes in perpetuity - the schools (MVWSD, MVLAHSD, Foothill/DeAnza) will NEVER get any future tax growth north of 101.

Think redevelopment districts are crazy? Write assemblyman Paul Fong - he used to be an education district trustee and a friend of educational financing!

Posted by Parent, a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Redevelopment districts serve a greater good, too. As a parent, I used to share the frustration that the downtown redevelopment district and the Shoreline district (especially Shoreline) seemed to have huge surpluses and the schools were struggling. But as a Mountain View resident, I really appreciate the wonderful and vital downtown we have, and the great resource that is Shoreline. Those things would not have happened without redevelopment districts.