Sacramento area school budgets on firmer ground as California finances improve

Increased state funding has brought relief to most California schools, with 76 districts reporting they are no longer in financial peril, the California Department of Education announced this month.

In Sacramento County, Natomas Unified, Robla, Elk Grove Unified and Folsom Cordova Unified moved off the state’s financial warning list this year.

That leaves San Juan Unified, Sacramento City Unified, Center Unified and Galt Joint Union in “qualified” status. Those districts have reported that they may not be able to meet their financial obligations for three consecutive years based on current projections. Sacramento City Unified and San Juan Unified have been on the early warning list since 2007-08.

No school districts in Yolo or El Dorado counties were on the early warning list. In Placer County, tiny Placer Hills Union School District remains in “qualified” status.

Sacramento City Unified’s “fiscal instability” is the result of skyrocketing costs, declining enrollment and a decade of state funding cuts, said spokesman Gabe Ross. “We believe we are turning a corner,” he said.

San Juan Unified has already remedied its financial problems, said spokesman Trent Allen. The California Department of Education’s second interim report released later this year will show the district has a positive certification, he said. The California Department of Education requires that all 1,038 school districts report their financial status twice a year.

State revenue has grown dramatically after voters approved 2012 tax hikes, and capital gains have surged. The number of schools on the state’s fiscal early warning list has dropped dramatically over the last four years, with only 49 school districts still reporting they are in financial danger. Last year, 92 school districts were in financial straits; 174 were on the list in 2010.

“Californians have put our schools back on the path toward economic recovery after several years and billions of dollars of cuts, and they are working hard to continue down that path,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a prepared statement.

Districts on the list receive a “qualified” or “negative” warning, the latter of which is more serious and can lead to intervention by county education officials.