School District Not Surprised by State Budget Cuts

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday July 30, 2009 - 11:04:00 AM

The latest round of proposed state budget cuts to public education did not come as a surprise to the Berkeley Unified School District. 

California lawmakers reached a deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger July 21 to close California’s $24 billion budget deficit by making deep cuts in almost every area, including $6 billion in education. 

In February, the state Legislature passed a preliminary budget that left Berkeley Unified with an $8 million deficit. The governor’s May revision to this budget created an additional $6 million budget shortfall in the school district for the next two years. 

Berkeley Board of Education President Nancy Riddle said Berkeley Unified had prepared its 2009-10 budget according to the May revision, which was similar to the cuts proposed in the legislators’ plan. 

“We haven’t seen the details [of the final budget] yet, but we anticipate it will be the same,” Riddle said. “Unless, of course, cuts are made in different places. We are watching it very closely and if something changes we’ll be ready to pounce.” 

A report prepared by district Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland show that the total cuts in the district from the February budget and the May revision amount to $13.6 million, of which $7.4 million has been addressed with the help of federal stimulus funds, state flexibility funds and budget reductions approved by the board.  

Riddle said the district is still figuring out what the cuts at the county level will mean for its budget. 

District Superintendent Bill Huyett is on vacation and could not be reached for comment. 


Proposition 98 funding 

Although the proposed budget cuts will not eliminate Proposition 98—a voter-approved measure that sets a minimum level of funding for California schools—it will slash $7.6 billion from it, resulting in larger class sizes, canceled summer school, a shorter school year and no new textbooks. The preliminary budget passed in February took away $11.6 billion from public school funding, leading to teacher layoffs, program cuts and other hardships in school districts statewide. 

The legislators’ plan will provide $49 billion for the 2008-09 fiscal year and $50 billion for the 2009-10 fiscal year in total Prop. 98 funding, according to the California Department of Education. 

“I fully recognize that given the magnitude of our state fiscal crisis, the pain for schools could have been worse than that created by the agreement that was reached,” said state Superintendent of Public Insruction Jack O’Connell. “Nevertheless, the reductions that our schools must absorb now will heighten the challenge educators face in trying to increase student achievement and close the achievement gap, and I fear that the last decade of progress in statewide student test scores will be interrupted.” 

The new state budget proposal also excludes the California High School Exit Exam requirement for disabled students, to provide school districts with some funding flexibility, a move O’Connell called unfortunate. 

“Many thousands of students with disabilities have passed the exit exam, and many more will continue to take and pass this test,” he said. “Eliminating this requirement for students with disabilities who are on a diploma track does nothing to help prepare these students for success after high school.”