New Budget Makes Major Cuts to BUSD’S Cost of Living

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday September 25, 2008 - 05:53:00 PM

California’s long overdue state budget signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Tuesday leaves the Berkeley Unified School District’s budget virtually unchanged from last year, but forces it to grapple with the rising cost of living, district officials said Thursday. 

Under the new budget, the district is set to make cuts of $2.5 million, which leave the budget barely balanced and with a loss of almost $2.9 million in general revenue and program reductions. 

“It’s a bad budget and I want to be clear about that,” said district Superintendent Bill Huyett. “The budget’s going backwards but costs are going up. Food and gas prices are increasing everyday.” 

Huyett said the budget will not cut categorical funds, which would leave school libraries and other improvement programs untouched. 

The $143 billion 2008-09 budget—which came a record 85 days after the state began its fiscal year on July 1—will give the district a 0.68 percent Cost of Living Adjustment instead of the district’s estimated 1 percent, Berkeley Board of Education President John Selawsky said. 

“It’s maintaining last year’s budget but we are losing some money,” he said. “The real cost of living [increase] is higher than 0.68 percent. In the Bay Area it’s almost as high as 5 or 6 percent. It’s not something we didn’t expect but we are definitely disappointed. There’s no new revenue. This bare bones budget will reflect on our operations.” 

The school board is expected to announce at the end of October budget ramifications if any, Selawsky said. 

“We are required to do that by law 45 days after the budget is passed,” he said. “But we are not anticipating any reductions. However, I have heard there is talk in Sacramento about mid-year cuts. But nobody knows whether those cuts will actually happen or whether they will be in education.” 

Fears of teacher layoffs in Berkeley public schools because of the governor’s proposed budget cuts earlier this year saw large contingents of parents, teachers, school board members and students pack buses and cars and rally in front of the State Capitol in Sacramento several times. 

Huyett met with Assemblywoman Loni Hancock in Sacramento to emphasize the importance of preserving Prop. 98—a voter approved statute that establishes a minimum level of funding for California schools—which the governor wanted to suspend but the legislature ultimately voted to save. 

Berkeley Unified announced in June that all teachers who had received pink slips in the mail would be able to keep their jobs. 

Selawsky said that he was hopeful that the district’s classified employees would not be laid off either. 

Earlier this month the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees (BCCE) rallied to ask the school board for a cost of living increase which district officials said at that time was difficult to negotiate because of the governor’s overdue budget. 

Huyett said that although the district still had open contracts with (BCCE) and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39 it had settled pay raises with the teachers union and Local 21. 

School board member Joaquin Rivera, who will not be running for re-election during the Nov. 4 municipal elections, lambasted the government for the budget. 

“We finally have a budget which is a horrible budget and all the representatives who passed the budget should be ashamed of themselves,” he said at the board meeting Wednesday. “It’s really pushing the problem to the next year. It does nothing for us. Year after year Sacramento keeps tying our hands and giving us less and less money. We have bills to pay, employees to take care of.” 

In a statement released Tuesday the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said he had directed his staff to distribute funds owned to child care centers and schools. 

“With costs continuing to rise, budgets being squeezed, and the fact that this budget is predicated on uncertain revenues, the signing of the budget brings only temporary relief for local education agencies,” he said. “I urge policy makers to craft a budget for the next fiscal year that includes new revenues that will allow us to truly address the needs of students in our public education system. We must provide funding that will help us increase the achievement of all students, close the achievement gap, and prepare students for success in the increasingly competitive global economy.”