With the ink still drying on the state’s 2002-2003 budget, Berkeley Unified School District officials say the impact on the local school system is far from clear.
“Everybody is asking that question,” said Board of Education President Shirley Issel. “I don’t think we’ll know for a while.”
But statewide observers said that local districts like Berkeley Unified will fare relatively well given that the budget includes a $3.3 billion spending hike over 2001-2002 levels, while funding in other areas, like health care and social services, declined significantly in the face of a $24 billion budget shortfall.
“There’s no question that education was the winner in a bad budget year,” said Kevin Gordon, executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials.
Still, there are some strings attached. Critics note that the $3.3 billion increase in public school spending is actually less than it appears because it includes $1.15 billion in education money borrowed from the 2001-2002 budget year.
Furthermore, Gov. Gray Davis made several education-related line item vetoes when he signed the budget Thursday. Adult education programs, which are administered by local districts like Berkeley Unified, took a $23 million hit and Davis cut $17 million from nonprofit Healthy Start, which funds academic and health support services.
Still, observers agree that public education fared well overall, with per pupil spending increasing 6.9 percent over last year from $6,610 to $7,067.
Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, said urban school districts like Berkeley Unified will fare even better in 2003-2004 when a new formula for “equalization” funding, aimed at ensuring equal funding from district to district across the state, goes into effect.
The old formula favored suburban districts, she said.
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