Credit: Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

EdSource’s new report on pension costs for California school districts details how those financial obligations doubled over the course of four years.

To report the story, EdSource obtained pension data from the California Department of Education. The data comes from financial reports that school districts send to the state each year. 

We looked at traditional K-12 district general fund expenditures for the CalPERS and CalSTRS state pension funds for 2013-14 and 2017-18. The general fund is used to account for the ordinary operations of a school district. CalSTRS covers teachers and administrators while CalPERS covers other school employees like teacher aides, clerical workers and custodians. 

On March 4, EdSource reported the data as per-student payments by the districts. After questions were raised about the numbers, EdSource learned that the data included payments into the funds by the state on behalf of the districts.

That stemmed from an accounting change in 2014-15 that shifted the way districts show pension spending in their reports. The change made it incorrect to compare 2013-14 expenditures to 2017-18 expenditures. 

After consulting with school finance experts, EdSource updated the data by subtracting the state’s on-behalf payments to CalSTRS from the 2017-18 data, making it comparable to 2013-14.

Some districts didn’t list a value for their state on-behalf contributions to CalSTRS in 2017-18. School finance experts and some of the districts confirmed the practice. The figures for those districts are included in this data. 

To allow comparisons, EdSource calculated per-pupil spending on pensions for each district. It based those calculations on average daily attendance. School districts in California are largely funded based on those attendance numbers. 

San Francisco Unified does not participate in CalPERS, so data shown for that district is for CalSTRS only.

The pension numbers in this story differ from the general fund spending numbers provided by the California Department of Education and on Ed-Data, a collaboration between EdSource, the education department and FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis &Management Assistance Team), the state agency that provides fiscal advice to local districts. The Ed-Data numbers include the district’s total payments and the state’s on-behalf payments to CalSTRS.

Spending figures for 2013-14 are not adjusted for inflation. Inflation increased about 6 percent from July 2014 to July 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We need your help ...

Unlike many news outlets, EdSource does not secure its content behind a paywall. We believe that informing the largest possible audience about what is working in education — and what isn't — is far more important.

Once a year, however, we ask our readers to contribute as generously as they can so that we can do justice to reporting on a topic as vast and complex as California's education system — from early education to postsecondary success.

Thanks to support from several philanthropic foundations, EdSource is participating in NewsMatch. As a result, your tax-deductible gift to EdSource will be worth three times as much to us — and allow us to do more hard hitting, high-impact reporting that makes a difference. Don’t wait. Please make a contribution now.

Share Article

Comments (1)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. SD Parent 9 months ago9 months ago

    To extrapolate what "Ann" commented on another of your pension posts, how much of the increase in per pupil pension cost is due to salary increases? And how much of the increase in per pupil pension cost has been "mitigated" by fewer employees per student, resulting in fewer services to students? (For example, at least in SDUSD, programs and services that used to be funded by categorical funding have been decimated, including funding for … Read More

    To extrapolate what “Ann” commented on another of your pension posts, how much of the increase in per pupil pension cost is due to salary increases? And how much of the increase in per pupil pension cost has been “mitigated” by fewer employees per student, resulting in fewer services to students? (For example, at least in SDUSD, programs and services that used to be funded by categorical funding have been decimated, including funding for instructional materials, GATE, Music & Arts, etc.)
    These are the intangibles that are important to understand but hard to measure.