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Proposed snow removal, charter school bills could benefit Truckee students

TANYA CANINO, Sun News Service

Two issues before California legislators – snow removal costs and charter school funding – could mean thousands of dollars in the future for the financially-beleaguered Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.

Reimbursement for the costly impact of snow removal in mountain school districts is presented in Assembly Bill 123, introduced by Assemblyman Rico Oller (R-San Andreas) on Jan. 5.

“Any district that does have snow removal costs would qualify,” said Jim Kjol, Oller’s senior consultant.

Tahoe Truckee Unified School District has spent about $250,000 on snow removal during each of the last two years, said TTUSD Superintendent Pat Gemma.

Snow removal for the winter of 1997-98 was $180,000 over the budgeted amount. The school district normally budgets about $75,000 each year, but this year upped the amount to $125,000, Gemma said.

The new legislation would require school districts to budget $10 per student and any money spent over that amount would be reimbursable by the state. With about 5,000 students, the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District would pay about $50,000 for snow removal and the rest would be reimbursed.

“The extra costs wouldn’t come out of our reserves, it would come out of the fund (established at the state for snow removal costs),” Gemma said.

School districts are given transportation equalization money by the state, but if the new bill passes, a school district could get more transportation money if the cost of snow removal exceeds a set amount.

Kjol said the bill is important because “schools not in the mountain areas don’t face those snow removal costs.”

He said the same bill has been introduced in Gov. Gray Davis’ special session on education. The bill, AB 30X, would accomplish the same thing as AB 123, but could be enacted in 30 to 60 days, instead of Jan. 1, 2000. He said the bill hasn’t had any hearings and he is unsure how it will fare in the legislative session.

Another issue the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is trying to place on the legislative agenda is to help school districts deal with a loss of enrollment from charter schools.

In the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, a loss of enrollment in September resulted in about $400,000 less in revenue. Usually in those cases, the state will call a district “a declining enrollment district” and fund the school district on the basis of last year’s enrollment. This gives the district a year to adjust its budget for less students, according to Gemma.

However, in TTUSD, the overall district enrollment was not considered “declining” because students had enrolled in the district-sponsored Prosser Creek Charter School.

The school district would like to be called a declining enrollment district because it does not receive money for charter school students.

Some legislation is being considered – although it has not yet been introduced – to allow school districts to not count charter students in their enrollment, Gemma said.

“This issue is starting to concern many more districts,” Gemma said.

He added that it is an unintended consequence of the push to encourage charter schools.

A lobbyist is working with different legislators to come up with a draft bill and a sponsor, he said.

Oller’s office, as well, is interested in the issue, Kjol said. While Oller is a champion of charter schools, “we don’t want to see a school district negatively impacted,” Kjol said.

Gemma said there is an urgency to have the state declare Tahoe Truckee Unified School District a declining enrollment district this year, so it can recoup $400,000 in state funding, but there also needs to be a long-term legislative solution.

The state Board of Education met Wednesday possibly discussing whether charter school students should be counted in a school district or as leaving a district.

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