A recommendation to cut $1 million from next year’s budget goes to the Berkeley Unified School Board tonight, even though the governor has proposed higher spending for California’s schools.
The list proposes several cuts at Berkeley High School, including the full-time equivalent of four teachers and half of the funding for the athletic directors’ positions. But the overall cuts are about half of what the district was considering just a few weeks ago.
The Berkeley Unified School District is facing budget shortfalls of around $3 million between the current and upcoming fiscal years. Technically, the district is not in the red, although expenses are outpacing revenues this year, and the trend is expected to continue next year under the district’s original budget.
But the BUSD is legally required to maintain a 3 percent reserve fund. So, while the district is projected to end the current fiscal year with a positive fund balance of about $1.7 million, that’s $829,000 short of the mandated reserve level.
Earlier this week, Gov. Gray Davis announced the May revisions in his proposed state budget for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, which begins July 1. A significant portion of the money would be discretionary funds for school districts, meaning no strings would be attached to how the money is used. Other increases Davis is proposing fall into the categorical areas, which means districts must use that money for specific purposes or programs.
The district estimates that it will gain $3.2 million in additional revenue next year from the state, if the governor’s proposed budget is adopted. It still must go through the state Legislature, where changes could be made. But with the state looking at a $12 billion surplus over the next two years, lawmakers will likely pass most of Davis’ proposals.
The discretionary money is good news for the BUSD, and the proposed allocations allowed Superintendent Jack McLaughlin to reduce the amount of money in his proposed budget cuts.
Earlier this month, he presented the school board with a list of cuts totaling just over $2 million. Tonight’s proposal has been decreased to just over $1.1 million in cuts.
A financial issue in everyone’s mind is the state of negotiations between the school district and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. Salary agreements for the current fiscal year already have been reached with other unions, but the BUSD-BFT negotiations hit an impasse in March and are currently in the mediation stage.
A mediation session between both sides is scheduled for this morning.
Last week, the state mediator declared a “press and information blackout” on all issues related to those negotiations. But one piece of information emerged last week and slipped under many people’s radars. During a budget workshop last Wednesday, a document distributed by the district reported that the “cost of the current salary offer to BFT for 1999-2000” was $665,000.
That document also states that the district is setting aside $1.9 million in the 2000-2001 fiscal year for salary increases, presumably for all of the unions, not just teachers.
Tuesday night, during the final regularly scheduled meeting of the Blue Ribbon Budget Advisory Committee – formed earlier this year to examine ways the district could restructure its budget to save money – McLaughlin told committee members that officials would be “scrounging, squeezing and cleaning the budget” to fund salary increases.
“If we keep the status quo, we’ll never get ahead,” McLaughlin said. “Not only do we have to fund the offers on the table, we have to go forward if we’re ever going to have competitive salaries for our teachers.”
The board meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be held in Board/Council Chambers in Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The meeting is scheduled to be broadcast over B-TV, Channel 25, and 89.3-FM, KPFB.