BUSD Fears Mid-Year Cuts Could Jeopardize State Funding Further

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday October 25, 2008 - 02:24:00 PM

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 45-day revision to the state budget gives the Berkeley Unified School District more revenue than what he proposed earlier this year, but leaves it with a minimal cost of living increase, district officials said Wednesday 

Under state law, the district is required to inform the public about any changes to its budget based on the governor’s final adopted budget within 45 days. 

The governor approved the 2008-2009 Fiscal Year final California budget on Sept. 23, a record 83 days later than when the state was supposed to begin its Fiscal Year on July 1. 

District Superintendent Bill Huyett said Thursday that the governor’s budget update leaves Berkeley Unified’s budget virtually unchanged from what it was in September, explaining that it eliminates a 6.5 percent cut to categorical programs and restores money to deferred maintenance. 

Money from categorical funds go toward helping early childhood education, pre-schools and nutrition programs. Deferred maintenance funds are money the district matches with the state to upgrade school buildings and facilities, Huyett said. 

Javetta Robinson, the district’s deputy superintendent, told the school board at a public meeting Wednesday that the final state budget included a Prop. 98 funding level of $58.1 billion—$1.3 billion higher than what was forecast in May—which would restore the categorical program cuts and provide a small cost of living of 0.68 percent instead of the district’s estimated 1 percent. 

Prop. 98 is a voter-approved statute that establishes a minimum level of funding for California schools. 

“No COLA [Cost of Living Adjustment] is provided to categorical programs,” she said, reading from a report presented to the board. “None of the flexibility items for school districts were included in the final state budget, such as allowing the district to transfer funds between programs for greater flexibility on spending.” 

Robinson said that although the funding for the district looked better than what had been proposed in May, a couple of factors could jeopardize it. 

The district’s revenue for the year, Robinson said, was already below the projected amount and the “questionable reliability” of some of the additional revenues included in the final state budget could result in Prop. 98 funding sinking lower. 

“This could result in schools being funded above the guarantee in early 2009, setting the stage for mid-year cuts,” Robinson’s report stated. 

The other potential concern, the report added, was the level of uncertainty in 2009-10 which had led the Alameda County Office of Education to advise the district to be conservative about its budget over the next two years. 

Berkeley Board of Education President John Selawsky and Huyett both acknowledged that the final budget could be subject to mid-year cuts. 

“On one hand we are getting revenues restored and on the other hand there’s uncertainty with the state budget,” Selawsky said. 

Robinson told the board at the meeting that under the final budget, the district’s revenues would be increasing by $596,000. 

“This is all well and good but the governor is calling the legislature back into session after the elections in November to possibly talk about mid-year cuts to deal with the state’s failing economy,” Huyett said Thursday.