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2 School Districts Remain in Back of State Fund Class

July 19, 1987|BETH UYEHARA | Community Correspondent

When the state divvied up funds for Los Angeles County schools last year, the Montebello Unified School District was dead last in the amount of money received for each student. Paramount was next to last.

At the top of the list was Beverly Hills, which received $937 per student more than either Paramount or Montebello. Beverly Hills' per-student advantage over Montebello and Paramount gave Beverly Hills at least $20,000 more to spend per classroom than those districts at the bottom of the list.

A report recently issued by the Los Angeles County Office of Education showed that three other districts serving the Southeast area--El Rancho in Pico Rivera, Lynwood and Los Angeles--were in the county's bottom 10 in the amount of money received under a formula based on each district's average daily attendance (ADA), which roughly corresponds to funding per student.

Below County Average

In addition, the Bellflower, Compton, Downey, Long Beach and Norwalk-La Mirada districts were all at least $50 per student below the county average. The highest-funded district in the Southeast area--ABC, at $2,598 per ADA--was still slightly below the $2,616 county average. They also fell below the statewide average of $2,581.

Eleven of 42 districts in the county were above the county average: Beverly Hills, El Segundo, Culver City, Santa Monica-Malibu, La Canada, Palos Verdes Peninsula, San Marino, Arcadia, Claremont, Torrance; and Las Virgenes. The top 11 range from $3,486 per ADA in Beverly Hills to $2,623 per ADA in Las Virgenes.

At the other end of the scale, Montebello received $2,548.08, while Paramount received $2,548.51--a difference of just 43 cents between the two. It marked the second consecutive year that Montebello stood in last place.

'Wrote Letters to Everyone'

"Last year, when we hit bottom, I wrote letters to everyone," Montebello Supt. John P. Cook said. "I felt it was just awful. I wrote to legislators, the governor, the Department of Education, everyone. If we had Beverly Hills' ADA, our district would have $30 million more a year than we have now."

Instead, Montebello has had to cut this year's spending by $7 million to balance its $109-million budget for next year.

The disparity between the richest and poorest districts in the county rankles some educators in the lower-funded districts. They cite the 1976 Serrano-Priest decision by the California Supreme Court, which said that funding differences among school districts statewide should be "considerably less" than $100 per pupil.

"The Serrano decision mandated that (the state) close the gap," Cook said. "That half-dozen (school districts) at the top, that's the irritant to me. It's tougher to teach in Montebello than in Beverly Hills. Kids begin school at a disadvantage here. They haven't had the cultural advantages. Montebello needs more money than Beverly Hills, not less."

"But, I don't want them to cut Beverly Hills," he added. "I want them to raise us. "

"I don't think the state has enough money to fund everyone at Beverly Hills' level," said Dan Warden, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. "To bring everybody up to the statewide average would cost about $100 million more a year."

The disparity has existed for years. Before Proposition 13, the state gave each school district in the state an equal "foundation" income. School districts were then free to supplement the state's money with property taxes. Schools in rich districts could afford to spend more per student than schools in poorer districts because property owners were able to pay higher taxes.

Changes in Funding

However, Proposition 13 made it more difficult for local districts to obtain increases in property taxes and gave the Legislature control over local school funding. Although property taxes are returned to the school districts in which they are collected, most funding for local school districts now comes from general taxes, according to Ron Slayton, a spokesman for the state Board of Education.

Following Proposition 13, the state continued to pay each school district the same proportionate amount of money per student that the districts had been spending before. This practice of differential funding was declared unconstitutional in 1976, when John Serrano, a parent of a child in an East Los Angeles school, sued the state. The judge in the case ruled in Serrano's favor and gave the Legislature six years to reduce "wealth-related disparities."

The Department of Education tried to close the gap after the Serrano decision by giving richer districts smaller cost-of-living increases each year than poorer districts.

For a couple of years, the Legislature contributed "equalization aid," earmarked to raise the ADA of districts funded below the state average, Slayton said. The gap began to narrow, and in 1983, in further proceedings in the Serrano case, a Los Angeles judge ruled that the state had achieved parity in 93% of its districts and had complied with the 1976 order.

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