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State gambling with schools
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Superintendent, Banta Elementary School District & Manteca resident

I will begin by acknowledging there are many facets of the latest California Budget that are onerous to many organizations.  With that said, I will focus on the educational piece.

The latest State Budget by our leaders in Sacramento has not only put education in a precarious and unknown position but also ties the hands of the very people who are supposed to protect and lead school districts.

If in January revenues fall $2 billion or more short of projections the following will happen:

• School district revenues would be reduced 4 percent, or $1.5 billion (an average of $250 per student)

• School districts would be authorized to reduce the school year an additional 7 days (subject to collective bargaining)

• The remaining half-year of home-to-school transportation ($248 million) would be eliminated

Also, the minimum guarantee of Proposition 98 is reduced through smoke and mirror alignments of state sales tax.  This is “Illegal” as Prop. 98 must have minimum funding unless it is suspended.  In order to suspend  Prop. 98 you must have a 2/3 vote which they do not.

Finally, the budget makes a one-time change by requiring a one-year budget for 2011-2012 rather than current year plus two subsequent years.  In addition, it takes the oversight away from the County Offices of Education to demand a three-year budget and it also prohibits school districts from reducing staffing based on this scenario.

The aforementioned items are just some high points regarding of the educational impacts, but let’s look closer for some of their far reaching ramifications.

A $250 cut per student: If a District used the governor’s January budget they would have already cut $349 per student.  If they used the May revision version and budgeted for flat spending then this becomes problematic for many districts.

Reducing the school year an additional 7 days: This requires an agreement with the local union to enforce this part.  It will be almost impossible to reach an agreement on this issue as there is no incentive for the collective bargaining unit.  If the legislature had any leadership skills whatsoever they would have mandated this piece yet they took the coward’s way out and let the Districts fight it out with their local unions.

Home-to-school transportation: Many low income and single parent families are dependent on school busses in getting their children to school.  If schools cannot afford to encumber their general fund budget to subsidize transportation then students do not get to school, the school loses the funding, and ultimately everyone loses.

Not funding the “Minimum Guarantee” for Prop.  98 is just illegal.  It requires a 2/3 vote to suspend Prop. 98 which would then allow the State to underfund this guaranteed requirement for education.  The legislature does not have the 2/3 vote so they use the term “creative” which is really another term for “Illegal”.

One year budget only: Having to project for the current budget year only without regard to any future budget years handicaps school boards and district personnel from responsible fiscal decisions for the well-being of the district.  School Districts are being asked to blindly function assuming that the money will be there without any guarantee.  This would be equivalent to a household making significant long-term financial commitments without any regard to long-term repayment.

Finally, a behind-the-door deal with CTA for AB 114 prevents a District from any layoffs next year no matter how dire the budget becomes.  This is like a dual income family having one member suddenly out of work and then told you cannot cut back on your finances to adjust for the loss of income.  This is just plain “crazy” for a lack of a better term. (Please understand that approximately 90% of a District’s budget is tied up in personnel).

School leaders are now paralyzed through this entire process.  Some may have to watch as their Districts become bankrupt without any recourse but to go begging to the State for money.  It is a sad commentary for our young people who deserve and have a right to a quality education.  Our legislature has failed us again and our children will pay the price.