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District Urges Caution Despite Extra Money By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday August 30, 2005

The Berkeley Unified School District is projecting that it will have $346,000 more for the school year than it anticipated last June when the 2005-06 budget was passed, but district officials cautioned that it’s not quite the time to open up the checkbook to more spending. 

“I keep getting calls from constituents who have heard that the budget problems are easing, and are asking me if we can now put funding into this program, or that program,” BUSD Board President Nancy Riddle said at last week’s meeting. “I just want to caution people. Our budget problems are not yet over. We’re still on a tight budget.” 

In figures released to the board last Wednesday by Director of Fiscal Services Song Chin-Bendib, the district now projects a $1.8 million surplus out o f a total $50.1 million unrestricted general fund budget. Chin-Bendib stressed that the figures do not include funds generated through local Measures B, BB, and BSEP. 

Aside from some minor accounting details, Chin-Bendib said that many of the major chang es between the budget passed the end of last June and the district’s working budget as of Aug. 5 come from adjustments from a compromise between the state legislature and the governor’s office that occurred after BUSD’s budget was passed. 

Because Gov. Ar nold Schwarzenegger backed off on his proposal to shift teacher retirement costs from the state to local school districts, BUSD now projects paying more than half a million less in pension costs than it anticipated. That savings was partially offset, however, by other increased employee benefit costs to the general fund as well as deeper cuts than anticipated in state aid. 

Chin-Bendib and Superintendent Michele Lawrence also pointed out that both the original and the revised budget figures project about $3.7 million lost to BUSD in state aid over the last two years because of the governor’s deal with state school leaders two years ago to “temporarily” suspend some of the provisions of Proposition 98. That “temporary” suspension has now become permanent—i n the governor’s eyes, at least—and Chin-Bendib noted in her presentation to the board that “there is no hope of recouping these funds in the absence of successful litigation—and that would be a long time coming (if ever).” 

Earlier this month, the Califo rnia Teachers Association, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, and a group of public school parents sued Gov. Schwarzenegger in Superior Court in Sacramento over his Prop 98 cuts, asking that full-funding of the education voter initiative be restored. 

At the time of the filing, CTA Vice President David Sanchez said that the complaint “is meant to force the governor to honor his word, the will of the people, and to ensure California students get no less than the minimum school funding gua ranteed under our constitution. The governor hasn’t just broken a promise, he’s broken the law.”