Apples and Oranges: Understanding ESF (03.11.11)

Posted by Catherine Wilson on 3/17/2011 1:00:00 PM

Joyce Martelli, Chief Financial Officer and Scott Sittig, Project Manager, ESF
Comparing current year school budgets with estimated 2011-12 Equitable Student Funding (ESF) planning targets is like comparing apples to oranges. People are making this comparison but not including the information needed for an accurate comparison. This is leading to unnecessary confusion for parents, staff and the general public.
So why is this “apples to oranges” comparison causing concerns?
Let's start with what Equitable Student Funding is. ESF is a resource allocation method that distributes the district's available funding to our schools and departments. It strategically aligns dollars and positions to support our highest educational priorities as determined by those closest to our students. The allocation is based on student enrollment and the needs of those students.
In short, ESF distributes available funding in an equitable manner. This year there are fewer dollars available to distribute. The estimated $80 million budget gap is caused by a decrease in revenue and an increase in expenses, not by the use of a particular allocation method.
In addition to ESF, additional dollars and positions are distributed to schools from a central fund, referred to as “locked” dollars. Examples include the cost for certain special education classes, half the cost of kindergarten teachers, and special funds for programs such as IB and Career and Technical Education. Without these additional resources factored in, it is impossible to make any meaningful comparison between a school's current-year budget and its estimated budget for 2011-12.
Another issue that makes the comparison flawed is the method used to calculate salaries. ESF budgeting is based upon average salaries for employees in a given title while the current-year budget uses actual salaries. The use of average salaries supports an equitable distribution of staff based on student enrollment, rather than on the amount of money required to pay for a particular position. Principals and schools were asked to focus on the positions needed to support their strategic academic plans instead of looking for the lowest salaries. In other words, focus first on the work and then look at the costs of providing that support. Any analysis that excludes an average-to-actual salary comparison will produce inaccurate results.
Many have commented about “draconian” cuts. Yes, the cuts are severe, but it is simply inaccurate to publish numbers that compare figures that are not comparable or complete.
We are committed to a transparent process. Specifics about school budgets will be published as more complete information becomes available and a meaningful analysis can be provided. We will continue working closely on budget development with our principals, who this year have greater autonomy over how their budgets are spent.


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