Colusa County’s smallest high schools bracing for potential loss of Necessary Small School funding

Colusa County’s two smallest high schools are looking at a serious reduction in funding in the not-so-distant future, as state funding for “necessary small schools” will dry up at the conclusion of the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The funding for necessary small schools, established under California Education Code Section 42285(b)(3), was allowed to sunset on July 1.

For small schools that are classified as “necessary,” districts received an adjustment to their revenue limit entitlements to offset the additional costs of operating schools that must be smaller because of a sparse population or other factors. Both Princeton and Maxwell High School qualify as “necessary” because they meet the certain enrollment requirements and are the requisite distance away from the next nearest high school. This is the last fiscal year in which necessary small school funding is guaranteed.

Currently, Maxwell qualifies as a necessary small school under a different section of the California Education Code but is sitting right on the cusp of the required enrollment for that qualification.

“We want to reinstate (the section of the Education Code that is sunsetting) because if our ADA (Average Daily Attendance) drops below 96 students,” Maxwell would no longer qualify as a necessary small school under the section they currently use, said Maxwell Superintendent Zach Thurman.

Both Thurman and Cody Walker, Princeton’s superintendent, said that they are actively seeking help in the capital to get the funding back in place, and have received some support from area lawmakers.

“We have some support from (State Senator Jim) Nielsen and (Assemblyman James) Gallagher. We have been in contact with both and they ensured us that they supported (funding for small schools) and that they would work to get it put back in place,” Thurman said.

“We’re continuing to work with a variety of different people in the capital and are hopeful that it will happen, but that has yet to be determined,” said Walker. “Our goal is an extension of the funding. It’s something that is very small in the scope of the state budget, and very large for the districts that are affected by this.”

While both school districts are hoping for the best – that the funding will be reinstated – they are already preparing for the worst.

Maxwell High School, which had two teachers unexpectedly leave for new positions this summer, elected to fill those positions with existing staff, rather than hire new teachers to fill them. Depending on how things play out with the small school funding, the changes could be permanent.

“We’re trying to look ahead, just in case funding doesn’t go through, so that we are conservative with our budgeting right now and we don’t have to make drastic changes down the line,” said Maxwell Unified Superintendent Zack Thurman. “It’s possible that there still could be some cuts, and that those positions will be filled with the staff that we have. We have to make sure we’re utilizing our funds for the best interests of our students and the district.”

Princeton Superintendent Cody Walker said his district has taken similar measures as they prepare for a loss in funding.

“We’ve tried to be proactive with it, in the preparation of this happening,” said Walker, adding that a number of other small high schools in the region, including Biggs and Los Molinos, were facing a similar reality.

Just how big of an impact will the loss of small school funding have on the county’s two smallest high schools? According to Thurman, it could reduce his high school’s funding by between $300,000 and $400,000.

“We’re in that same ballpark,” said Walker. “I guess I like to cross bridges as I come to them, but there will obviously, have to be adjustments to our expenses to match our revenue.”

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net