Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to make additional state education budget cuts to stimulate California’s flagging economy set off alarm bells for school districts last week, many of which had been fearful of mid-year reductions when the governor released a delayed state budget in September.
At a special legislative session Thursday morning, the governor announced an action plan to get the state budget back on track, calling for $4.5 billion in budget cuts-including $2.5 billion in Prop. 98 funding—and $4.4 billion in new revenue to address the state’s $11.2 billion budget deficit.
Prop. 98 is a voter-approved statute that establishes a minimum level of funding for California schools.
The proposal, which district officials said the governor wanted the Legislature to act upon immediately, would leave the Berkeley Unified School District with a loss of $2.8 million, taking away a 0.68 percent anticipated increase in cost of living.
It would also reduce K-12 revenue limits by another $1.7 billion, which translates to a total of $350,000—$300 for every student attending school daily.
Traditionally, mid-year reductions have been very difficult for school districts to make, said some members of the Berkeley Board of Education, since schools have to cut into their mid-year reserves and look at ways of tightening spending.
“It’s really impossible to do mid-year cuts because everyone is under a contract,” said district Superintendent Bill Huyett in a telephone interview from Pennsylvania, where he is on vacation.
“What school districts will end up doing is going broke. It’s an impossible thing for school districts to do. I think the governor will find that out when he goes to the Legislature. Some other solution needs to be there.”
The Berkeley Unified School District already took a $2.5 million cut this year but was able to retain all its teachers, who at one point were facing layoffs.
Javetta Robinson, the district’s deputy superintendent of business services, said the proposal meant a substantial cut for Berkeley Unified, and eliminated a big chunk from the general fund.
“Unfortunately because we are already in the middle of the year it will be very difficult,” she said, adding that the superintendent would have to summon his Budget Advisory Committee once again to figure out the best way to handle the cuts.
School Board Vice President Nancy Riddle said that structurally mid-year cuts were very tough for school districts.
“We have been watching this because we knew it would be hard to react to mid-year cuts,” she said. “We are really worried, but at least in his remarks the governor is admitting that the state cannot cut its way through this situation, that revenues have to be created also. We will see what that looks like.”
The governor called for a 1.5 cent increase in sales tax, which would last for three years and raise $3.5 billion in the current year and also proposed an oil severance tax worth $530 million.
Riddle added that the governor’s proposed cuts in higher education also made it a challenge for parents whose children were about to enroll in college, since it meant less financial aid for them.