This FAQ is intended to provide information and clarity with regards to the District’s General Fund balances and reserves, the process and authority surrounding the sale of the Cabello site, the funds derived from it, and the establishment of the District’s Fiscal Stabilization Fund.
What is Fiscal Stabilization Fund?
A Fiscal Stabilization Fund is a portion of a School District’s fund balance set aside through formal means pursuant to Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) 54. In the case of New Haven, the adopted District board resolution, and most importantly, the approval from the State Allocation Board (SAB) serve as the formal agreement(s).
How and where did the District get money to establish a Fiscal Stabilization Fund, and how much is in the fund?
The establishment of the District’s Fiscal Stabilization Fund was made possible by the sale of the Cabello site and by Education Code 17463.7, which was a temporary relaxation of previous law regarding sale of unused school property. The District deposited $9.8 million from the Cabello sale proceeds in to the General Fund in order to establish the fund.
Why did the District create a Fiscal Stabilization Fund?
School funding is perilously dependent on the State economy. The District was in desperate need to be able to sustain itself, having gone through years of massive cuts caused by the State economic crisis, and years of borrowing cash twice within a year just in order to make payroll. (Note: one month’s payroll is approximately $10.5 million.)
For these reasons the Fiscal Stabilization Fund was established and authorized by the Board, approved by SAB, and exists for purpose of stabilizing District finances and maintaining fiscal solvency.
In 2009, due to worsening State fiscal problems, school agencies were granted certain temporary flexibilities to help manage budget shortfalls, meet financial obligations, and stay compliant with the minimum required reserve. These flexibilities included reduction of the school year to 175 days, “sweep” of over 40 categorical programs, temporary drop of the required General Fund contribution to Routine Restricted Maintenance from 3% to 1%, and the addition of Education Code 17463.7, which has to do with sale of surplus property. EC 17463.7 became effective in 2009 through January 2016. It allowed some or all proceeds from sale of surplus property to be deposited in to the General Fund for one-time use, subject to approval by SAB. Prior to EC 17463.7, school districts were prohibited from depositing surplus property sale proceeds in to their General Fund, and the use of the proceeds was limited to capital outlay or maintenance needs that will not recur within five years.
To leverage this authority, School District Governing Boards were required to (1) provide documentation to the State Allocation Board (SAB) that demonstrates eligibility, and (2) adopt a plan, subject to approval by SAB, for any portion of the sale proceeds that would be deposited in to the General Fund.
While this code provided flexibility in some areas, the trade-off was the offset to, or in some cases, loss of eligibility for any apportionment from “hardship funding” from the State Deferred Maintenance Fund for at least five years.
When did the District sell the Cabello site?
Selling unused school property is a complex process that has specific sets of requirements that must be met and steps that must be followed, and as required by law, except for price negotiations, which take place in closed session, the property sale was conducted in open session by way of public hearings and adoption of all required and relevant documents. The process undertaken by the District to sell the Cabello site started in 2012 and was finalized in 2015.
Why did the District sell the Cabello site?
California went through a recession starting in 2008, and in order to meet financial obligations and comply with State required reserves, Districts up and down the State implemented various ways to reduce spending and looked for ways to enhance revenue locally, one of which is to sell unused property. Note: The Cabello property was closed (as an Elementary Site) in 2007.
Did the District consider other means to take care of its budget problems?
Despite budget reductions implemented during the recession, including reduction or elimination of programs, expenditure freezes, increased class sizes, staff reduction, furlough days, salary cuts and freeze of step and column, the District from year to year was at risk of not meeting the State reserve requirement. This placed the District in the County watch-list as “fiscally troubled”, which was one step away to being negatively certified by the County.
In addition to these severe budget reductions that affected all employees and many District programs, the District also resorted to cash borrowing twice a year in order to make payroll and pay its bills. The District took out cash loans twice each year. One loan from the County Treasury, and the other in the form of Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRANs) to pay back the County Treasury; yes, the District was borrowing from Paul to pay Peter, due to repayment statutes and timelines. These loans have associated costs. The District did this for a few years in a row.
At one point, the District also borrowed from the Employee Retiree Trust Fund just to be able to close out the fiscal year with a balanced budget. The District was that desperate. The Retiree Benefit Fund was established in 1988 by the District in its effort to provide some level of support for health benefit costs to retired employees. The District continues to make annual contributions into the fund. This loan was interest-bearing and was mutually agreed with the Retiree Fund Trust Board.
For how much was Cabello sold and what did the District do with the money?
The net sale proceeds from the Cabello sale was $13.763 million. Below is the allocation breakdown, as approved by SAB:
- Up to $9.8 million to establish a 7% Fiscal Stabilization Fund
(This is the line item deposited in to the General Fund. The excess of the calculated 7% in any given year is allocated to the Minimum Reserve Fund, thus providing relief to the General fund. To date the calculated 7% has not exceeded $9.8 million.)
- $2.8 million to pay for retiree benefit cost
(Drawn down annually until fully spent. This line item is held in a separate fund and provides relief to the General Fund as well. The current remaining balance is approximately $918,000.)
- $1.163 million for capital facilities needs
(Drawn down as needed until fully spent. This line item is held in a separate fund and allows for capital needs that are outside of or not approved as part of the Bond Measure. The current remaining balance is approximately $864,000)
How did other Districts use the State authority and flexibility under Education Code 17463.7?
Fourteen (14) school districts across the State were granted approval by SAB under EC 17463.7. Of the fourteen, almost all used portions of their sale proceeds for one-time purchase of books and supplies and capital facilities expenses. Below is additional information on the type of one-time need the fourteen Districts utilized the flexibility on:
9/14 Capital facilities expenses
9/14 Retiree Benefits
7/14 Services and other operating expenses
6/14 Books and supplies
2/14 Restoration of furlough days
Can the District use the 7% Fiscal Stabilization Fund for purposes other than what was approved by SAB?
The Governing Board had the authority in determining the allocation of the full sale proceeds of the property, including the amount deposited in to the General Fund for establishment of a Fiscal Stabilization Fund, as permitted by EC 17463.7. Pursuant to this code, that authority ended once SAB approved the allocation. Additionally, as that authority was created due to a legislative action (ABX4 2) that expired in 2016, redirecting use of the funds outside of what was approved by SAB places the District in legal jeopardy.
What is the District’s total reserve level?
The District’s total reserve designation is 10%, of which 7% is Fiscal Stabilization and 3% for the State-required Reserve for Economic Uncertainties (REU).
What about the 3% reserve? Can the District use those funds for other purposes, like employee raises?
The 3%, approximately $4 million, is required by the State for “Reserve for Economic Uncertainties” (REU), and while our Board Policy allows some flexibility in the use of some of this reserve designation under specific circumstances, the District does not meet the criteria to draw down any portion of this reserve level. For context, this 3% level of approximately $4 million is not adequate to pay the cost of one month’s payroll, which is approximately $10.5 million.
How does the District compare to others in terms of total reserve levels?
The most recent Statewide data on Average Reserve Levels by District type are:
- Unified School Districts 16.64%
- Elementary School Districts 21.07%
- High School Districts 17.25%
Where can interested people or parties find information regarding proceeds from the sale of the Cabello site and District’s reserve levels?
The District finances, including reserve level updates, as well as topic regarding the proceeds from the sale of Cabello and relevant updates are consistently included in the District’s periodic fiscal reports for Adopted Budget, First and Second Interim, and Year-End Unaudited Actuals, which are presented to the Board for approval. Additionally, all relevant documents regarding the sale of the Cabello site were requested by and provided to the NHTA bargaining team.
Lastly, on the District Website, under Budget Highlights, the District recently published Budget Facts and Figures (a.k.a Budget Infographic), which included sections on these topics as well.