Berkeley Unified School District Facing State Cuts in New Budget

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday February 20, 2009 - 09:07:00 AM

The state budget approved by lawmakers on Thursday to close California’s $42 billion budget deficit will impose billions of dollars in cuts on public education, leading to larger class sizes in grades K-12, fewer programs in arts and music and teacher lay-offs, officials said. 

The new budget will slash up to $6 million from Berkeley Unified School District over the next two years, according to Bill Huyett, district superintendent, and takes away 15 to 20 percent in funding from adult education, a major concern for the district. 

State schools chief Jack O’Connell told the Planet in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon that the new budget will take $8.4 billion from Prop. 98, a voter-approved statute that establishes a minimum level of funding for California schools, which includes deferrals and the redesignation of funds. 

He said that he was concerned that the state was, in essence, transferring its cash flow problem to local agencies. 

O’Connell said the cuts would translate to fewer librarians and nurses, loss of intervention programs and a significant decrease in text books and computers, leaving school districts across the state to grapple with the lack of valuable resources.  

“It’s definitely a step backwards,” he said. “There is relief in Sacramento because there is a budget, that it’s done, but nobody is proud. In my opinion, because of the implosion of the financial situation in the country, I understand tough decisions had to be made. But it’s unfortunate that we are receiving less money at a time when our teachers need to be compensated.” 

Huyett said that the budget approved by the legislation makes the same dollar cuts that the governor proposed, except that instead of taking the money out completely from the general fund, it dips into categorical and the general fund equally. 

“It’s hard to say how this will affect the district since our categorical funds lead to our general funds,” he said. “In some cases it doesn’t really make a difference. Our general fund will take a half to two-third cut.” 

Berkeley Unified was able to rescind layoff notices to teachers last year when the legislature voted against cutting Prop. 98 in the last fiscal year, but still lost $2.5 million in funding. 

Huyett said that since Prop. 98 was based on state revenue, the current economical crisis had taken a big toll on it. 

He said that the district would be revealing the list of lay-offs for this year to the school board Friday.  

Under state law, the district is required to notify teachers about possible lay offs by March 15 and pass a budget by the end of June. 

The new budget, which state educators said generates more money, also makes more cuts. 

It seeks to boost categorical education funding by freeing up funding that is tied up “in restrictive Sacramento-prescribed categories,” so that local schools and districts can act in the best possible way to serve students, a proposal which is hoped to benefit schools falling victim to a cash-strapped economy, but according to O’Connell still doesn’t reduce the impact of the cuts. 

“It’s a painful budget, there are no winners,” he said.