Unification now too costly for schools

By Nancy Gutierrez

In the mid '90s a debate over the unification of the Exeter Union School District (EUSD) and Exeter Union High School District (EUHSD) erupted.

Some say the town was divided over the matter. Some people believed the students in each of the districts have entirely different needs. Other people believed that unification would save both districts money and result in generating a large amount of money.

The issue was eventually voted on by the community and the decision not to unify was made. Now, several years the matter of Unification is still an issue for some people. Possibly because questions concerning the actual revenue that might be generated were never answered. In an effort to answer some of those questions the elementary and high school board members hired a company to audit the districts.

In 2003 an audit on the unification of EUSD and EUHSD was conducted by School Services of California(SSC) a company that has served California school districts, county offices and community colleges for 30 years. The company has helped in the development and implementation of education policy at both the state and local levels and has helped districts in meeting their management, governance, and fiscal responsibilities. SSC has assisted school districts in making decisions on unification, merger, breakup and school district boundary changes and guiding the districts through the lengthy state processes. Services for proposed unifications or territory transfers range from detailed financial analysis to full studies of the state's criteria for reorganization.

In the audit report by SSC the company states that usually this type of unification always generates additional funding, but the amount for both districts is $125,000. In the executive summary the districts would be subject to a complete loss of $207,000 in potential equalization aid.

A letter from the SSC Vice President Paul Goldfinger stated, "It is disappointing to me that the analysis did not show a more positive result."

Usually when districts unify money is saved by consolidating transportation and food service departments. Only one director for each area is needed instead of two and sometimes materials and buildings can be reduced when districts merge. Duplication of services is also eliminated. However there is already one transportation and food service department utilized by both districts so there would be no savings in those areas.

The loss of $207,000 comes from a loss of money sometimes provided by they state to narrow the gap between highly funded and low funded districts called equalization aid. According to the audit the elementary school district would be eligible for $146,776 in equalization aid and the high school district would receive $60,713. These two amounts come to $207,000. But if the districts were unified there would not be any allocation of aid to Exeter schools because the formula for equalization is based on average daily attendance which would be larger in a unified district.

The audit report also stated that an annual loss of Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) income of more than $13,000 in a year with a 2.7 percent funded COLA would occur. This income is provided by the state. SSC stated that the statewide average base revenue limit for unified districts is lower than the weighted average base revenue limit for elementary and high school districts so the COLA for unified districts is less. The report showed that if the COLA for 2006-2007 was 2.7 percent then EUSD would receive $241,230 and EUHSD would receive $166,470 totaling $407,000. If Exeter public schools were unified the district would receive $394,496 to be shared between the five schools.

"We would not realize the net revenues from the state," Sutton said. "It would cost us money to unify now. By not voting to unify we are being fiscally responsible."

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