After a year of heavy cuts, the Board of Education passed a final, $85 million 2003-2004 budget Wednesday night, leaving $6 million to be chopped the following year to balance the books.
“We’ve come a long way, we’ve made a lot of cuts,” said board President Joaquin Rivera. “[But] there will be at least another round where we have to make more deep cuts that will be quite painful.”
The board approved $8 million in 2003-2004 reductions and budget shifts in February, laying the groundwork for 70 to 100 teacher layoffs, increasing ninth-grade class sizes and cutting middle school music instruction from five to two days per week.
Rivera warned that the next round of cuts will hurt even more.
“Slowly, your creativity runs out and you have to start going deeper and deeper,” he said.
Associate Superintendent of Business and Operations Eric Smith said he expects the Alameda County Office of Education, which has jurisdiction over the Berkeley schools, to reject the district’s final budget for the third straight year.
But he predicted that the county office, which assigned a state fiscal adviser to the district two years ago, will not broaden state power over the Berkeley schools.
“A county office will step it up when the board doesn’t have the wherewithal to make the cuts and this board has demonstrated it has the wherewithal to make the cuts,” he said.
Under California law, the county office could give the state adviser, the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), the power of “stay and rescind,” allowing it to veto major budgeting decisions by the district. If the district remained in financial trouble, the state could then take over completely, as it has in neighboring Oakland and Emeryville.
County Associate Superintendent of Business Services Mike Lenahan said Thursday his office has to review the final budget before making any decisions. “I know the board has made some good efforts in the past,” he said.
Berkeley Unified faces a $3.4 million deficit in its general fund next year and is $2.6 million short of its rainy day reserve requirement— creating the $6 million shortfall.
State funding cuts, escalating salaries and years of financial mismanagement have all contributed to the deficit.
The district also faces a $263,000 deficit in its child development fund and a $622,000 shortfall in its cafeteria fund—prompted in part by the loss of a cushy, $300,000 food contract with the Emeryville schools last year. Left unchecked, these deficits could add to the district’s overall shortfall.
Smith said Berkeley Unified should be able to get the child development deficit under control through layoffs, but added that the cafeteria fund deficit will be more difficult to close.