To get an idea of how California's financial crisis will play out across the state, look no farther than Mountain View's school districts, whose trustees passed 2009-10 budgets by the June 30 deadline but fear that millions of dollars more will disappear before the year is out.
Administrators at the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District and the Mountain View Whisman School District passed much-tightened budgets in the past week, but are still expecting even harsher cuts as the state Legislature prepares to adopt a new budget to compensate for its out-of-control deficit.
The most recent estimates say the state will be short $24 billion after California voters rejected five of six measures aimed at balancing the budget in May. Now Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cut $5.3 billion from public education and community colleges.
"It's going to be bad this year and worse next year," MVLA school board president Judy Hannemann said of the budget. "Just wait for two years; it will be even worse."
The governor and legislators laid out potential cuts for revenue limit districts, which unlike most local districts receive the majority of their funding from the state. Lately there has been talk of basic aid districts contributing their "fair share," meaning the state would somehow take a portion of local property taxes, which is the source of their funding. Both Mountain View districts are basic aid, and receive some money from the state for special programs and maintenance.
The state reductions could mean cutting $71 in spending per Mountain View Whisman student for the 2008-09 school year, and $537 per student for the 2009-10 school year. Under this "fair share" approach, the high school could face a total of $2.6 million in cuts next school year, said Joe White, associate superintendent of business services. District administrators say these numbers are constantly changing, and they are unsure how much schools will get from the federal stimulus package.
"Information is changing by the minute," said Craig Goldman, Mountain View Whisman's chief financial officer, during a June 18 board meeting. "There are a lot of unanswered questions."
Mountain View-Los Altos
High School trustees passed their budget June 22, cutting close to $1 million for the 2009-10 academic year. With cuts looming, the district created a Budget Advisory Committee of teachers, administrators, community members and staff earlier this year. The committee made a long list of programs and positions to cut as they wait to hear from the state. (The document can be viewed here.)
Some of these reductions include eliminating Web positions, reducing the board and superintendent's budget and cutting back on funding for Latino outreach.
Trustees only had one objection before passing the budget. The district started a new Latino outreach program this year, allotting $20,000 to translate material from English to Spanish, make home visits to parents and bring in Spanish speakers in hopes of better incorporating the Latino community into the district. The Budget Advisory Committee suggested cutting this funding back to $5,000, but trustees said they wanted $10,000 to continue the programs. Administrators agreed to move money from maintenance or some other funding source to cover the difference.
Trustee Joe Mitchner said the budget sends a message about the district's priorities, and he saw the outreach as a priority.
"It is important to build on the efforts from last year and I would like to see that reduction be less," he said of the cutbacks to Latino outreach.
Mountain View Whisman
Mountain View Whisman also passed a budget in the last week, and administrators and trustees say they now face even more uncertainty.
Until recently, MV Whisman was a revenue limit district and received the majority of its funding from the state. But the state, facing a big deficit, is cutting back the amount of funding required to become a basic aid district. Mountain View Whisman property taxes meet this smaller requirement, so district officials are now waiting to find out how the cuts will be applied in their district.
During their meeting last week, administrators said that as they prepared their budget earlier this year, they thought they were in "pretty good shape." Superintendent Maurice Ghysels said the district was a "strong island," ready for cuts.
But the forecast now looks grimmer as the district faces "fair share" cuts.
"It turns out our island was just a sand bar," Goldman said.