Napa Valley Updates

Friday, March 28, 2008


St. Helena probes funding for out-of-district students
By Jesse Duarte
Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Napa County Office of Education appears to have received property tax revenue for high school education that should have been routed to the St. Helena Unified School District, local school officials said last week.

The money, generated in the boundaries of the Howell Mountain and Pope Valley school districts, probably should have gone to the St. Helena school district to fund the education of high school students from Howell Mountain and Pope Valley at St. Helena High School, said Superintendent Allan Gordon.

The Howell Mountain and Pope Valley school districts only offer K-8 education. High school-age students from those areas are allowed to attend any school in the county they wish, and most of them — currently about 60 — choose St. Helena High School.

“We discovered that the two districts were paying the county office of schools a rate that probably should have been coming to the St. Helena school district,” said Gordon.

According to Catrina Howatt, St. Helena school district chief business officer, it appears based on rough estimates that in the last fiscal year the county office received at least $400,000 from Howell Mountain and Pope Valley taxpayers that was intended for high school education.

The rate at which money generated in Howell Mountain and Pope Valley goes to the Napa County Office of Education is substantially higher than in other areas of the county.

Taxpayers in the St. Helena school district’s boundaries pay 3.7 cents on the dollar to the county office. The rate is about 2.2 cents for residents of the Calistoga and Napa Valley Unified school districts.

But Howell Mountain taxpayers pay an average of 9.2 cents on the dollar to the county office. In Pope Valley, the average rate is 11.8 cents.

It appears that those higher rates are related to high school education, said St. Helena officials.

The county office provides fiscal oversight and support services for all the county’s school districts. It also provides business services for the Howell Mountain and Pope Valley school districts.

Gordon suggested that the board sit down with officials from the county and the Howell Mountain and Pope Valley school districts to sort out the problem.

Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko stressed that officials are still in the “fact-finding” stage, and said there’s no evidence the county office received any funding that should have gone to St. Helena.

Nemko said records from a 1964 education master plan refer to a high school tax in the Howell Mountain and Pope Valley school districts, but that tax doesn’t appear in any modern education or tax codes.

“The county office doesn’t want one penny that doesn’t belong to us,” said Nemko. “So let’s find out if that is going on.”

Nemko said it appears that the other counties in California that have separate K-8 and high school districts have formed unified districts.

Gordon said St. Helena officials don’t want unification or higher tax rates for Howell Mountain and Pope Valley. They just want current tax revenue to be apportioned properly.

The problem seems to have originated in 1991 when St. Helena was converted from a “revenue-limit” district, receiving money from the state on a per-student basis, to a “Basic Aid” district, which keeps a portion of local property tax revenues.

Before the switch, the district received money for each student regardless of which district they lived in. Officials are still trying to find out what provisions were made for out-of-district students when the switch was made, but Gordon said the answer may lie in the higher rate that the Howell Mountain and Pope Valley school districts pay to the county office.

Pacific Union College’s plans to build a nearly 400-home “eco-village” in Angwin, along with other development plans in Pope Valley, prompted St. Helena school officials to start investigating the issue before the number of students from outside the district increases any further.

District officials also want to discuss how the St. Helena school district can receive a share of eco-village development impact fees to offset the new high school students it would generate. The project’s environmental impact report isn’t finished, but preliminary calculations have estimated the project will result in 43 to 123 new students at the K-8 Howell Mountain School and 16 to 43 new students at St. Helena High School.

Gordon said local school officials also need to discuss whether students from Howell Mountain and Pope Valley should have some form of representation on St. Helena’s school board.