Page One

State cuts shouldn’t hurt BUSD

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday May 22, 2002

xGov. Gray Davis’s proposed education budget shouldn’t inflict much harm on the Berkeley Unified School District next year, according to one highly-placed district official. But concerns about health care costs, special education and mentoring programs at two Berkeley schools linger. 

“I don’t think the May revision will have a significant impact,” said Associate Superintendent for Business Jerry Kurr, referring to the budget document the governor released last week in an attempt to address a nearly $24 billion shortfall. 

But Kurr said state education funding may not keep pace with escalating health care premiums. The district is now projecting increases of 17.5 to 25 percent next year, he said.  

The governor, meanwhile, is proposing a roughly 1.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for school district budgets. 

“A higher COLA certainly would help,” Kurr said. 

The federal government’s Department of Commerce sets the minimum COLA each year – 1.66 percent this time around. Davis has proposed a 1.66 COLA for some programs and a two percent increase for others, resulting in the aggregate 1.9 percent figure.  

Robert Manwaring, senior fiscal and policy analyst for the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which advises the legislature on the budget, said the adjustment should theoretically incorporate rising health care costs, but may lag behind the realities facing districts on the ground. 


The May Revise 

Gov. Davis made education a top priority in his May revision. While health and human services and county government sustained heavy hits, Davis held the line on education spending and transferred roughly $1.7 billion from this year’s school budget to the next in order to maintain the funding guarantees established by voters with passage of Proposition 98 in 1988. 

There was speculation before last week that the governor might ask the state legislature to suspend Proposition 98, which dedicates about 35 percent of the state’s general fund to schools. Instead, the governor has proposed a roughly $2 billion increase in education spending over the current year — with cuts in some areas and increases in others. 


Discretionary funding concerns 

“The budget generally avoids the kinds of reductions that hit local districts,” said Kevin Gordon, executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials, or CASBO. “(But) there are going to be some impacts if we don’t get some shifts within the budget.” 

Gordon raised particular concern about a proposed reduction of $200 million in discretionary funding for school districts statewide. He said districts have come to depend upon that funding. CASBO will push the legislature to shift the $200 million in cuts to new or expanded programs so local administrators will not feel the impact as strongly. 

A Senate budget committee voted Saturday to restore a portion of the discretionary funding and shift the cuts elsewhere. If those restorations survive the legislative process, some of Gordon’s concerns may be answered. 

But Kurr said that even if the discretionary cuts pass, they should not have a significant impact on next year’s Berkeley Unified School District budget. The district had already projected some of the cuts, he said, and does not qualify for some of the money in question anyhow, because of lofty local revenues. 


Special education 

The Davis plan would maintain special education funding at current levels next year. But part of the governor’s proposal involves cutting roughly $118 million in state funding and plugging in new federal dollars to make up the gap. 

The proposal does not sit well with Berkeley Board of Education member John Selawsky. 

“We’re supposed to be getting more this year because the federal funding is going up,” he said. 

Gordon said CASBO does not expect to restore the state funding this year, but is pushing legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Dickerson, R-Redding, and Senator Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, that would prevent the practice of substituting federal for state funding in the future. 

Berkeley Board of Education member Ted Schultz said ultimately the federal and state governments must provide full funding for costly special education programs that impinge heavily on districts’ general funds. 

A recent study by California School Services, Inc., a Sacramento consultant, found that special education spending “encroached” on the Berkeley Unified general fund to the tune of $4.5 million in 2000-2001, well above the statewide average. But the report noted that the costs of special education in the Bay Area tend to be higher than they are in other parts of the state. 



Davis has proposed a $4.3 million cut to the Academic Volunteer and Mentor Service Program’s $10 million budget. The state program funds mentoring programs at over 300 school sites statewide, including Emerson Elementary School and Willard Middle School in Berkeley. 

Program officer Janet Lopez said the office will continue to fund mentoring programs in the midst of three-year grants. But if the Davis proposal passes, the state will not renew grants at schools like Emerson, which is just finishing its third year. It will also cut $1.2 million in one-year “phase-out” grants for schools like Willard that have completed six years of service. 

“We were pretty shocked,” said Monica Santos, coordinator of the Emerson program, describing her reaction to the news last week. She said she is scrambling for foundation money to keep the program going next year. 

Administrators, teachers and students at the school plan to write letters to the legislature urging protection of the program. Santos urged Berkeley residents to do the same and voiced hope that Berkeley businesses might provide financial support for the program. 

Barry Fike, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, said if the state is going to cut, it should start by eliminating the standardized testing system, which he labeled a “fiasco.”