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California school districts are in better financial shape, officials say

A state report shows that the number of districts at risk of not meeting financial obligations dropped to 124 from 188 last May. But 2 L.A. County districts joined the list of at-risk districts.

March 05, 2013|By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times

California school districts are slowly emerging from financial crisis, with the number in danger of running out of cash dropping by one-third over last year, state education officials announced Monday.

"I can say with growing confidence that the worst of California's school funding crisis is behind us," state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement.

The number of school districts that won't or may not meet their financial obligations this year and the two subsequent years dropped to 124 from 188 last May, according to the report released by the state Department of Education. That amounts to 500,000 California students whose districts are no longer in financial peril, he said.

In Los Angeles County, however, two more districts joined Inglewood Unified on the list of those that are expected to run out of money sometime in the next three years: Walnut Valley Unified in the Diamond Bar area, which serves 14,600 students in 15 schools, and Wilsona School District in the Antelope Valley, with 1,430 students in two schools.

Another 16 L.A. County school districts reported that they might not be able to meet their financial obligations between now and 2014-15. They include L.A. Unified, Burbank, Compton, Pasadena and Pomona.

But the number of financially imperiled school districts in L.A. County has been reduced by half this year over last May, said Alex Cherniss, chief business officer for the county's Office of Education. He said financial problems remained because new funding from Proposition 30, passed by voters last November, and Gov. Jerry Brown's new school-finance formula, won't start delivering new dollars for another year or two. Beginning next year, he said, L.A. County schools would receive an average boost of $300 per student.

In L.A. Unified, however, Supt. John Deasy has said that any increased funding would be used to fill in continued deficits from past state budget cuts and that any new spending would not begin until 2015.

"There is no tangible evidence that districts' financial positions are improving today," Cherniss said. "There's just more positive projections moving forward."

"It's hard to take to the bank rosier times until we see the economy actually improve," he said.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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