School districts see budget storm coming
Mountain View Whisman could lose $3 million under governor's proposed cuts
Local school officials say they are hoping for the best and planning for the worst as they assess what could happen if the state slashes the education budget as promised by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
At a board meeting last week, officials of the Mountain View Whisman School District estimated they would lose up to $3 million if the state legislature passes the governor's proposed budget.
Chief financial officer Craig Goldman laid out the initial budget assessment during the meeting. The district hopes to raise revenue by renewing a local parcel tax and renting out classrooms to summer camps, he said — but if the governor's proposal passes, cuts to school programs cuts would be inevitable.
"We need to keep in mind this is an unexpected result," Goldman said. "The deficit is real and it is not likely to get better before it gets worse."
The governor declared a fiscal emergency in early January, proposing to cut 10 percent of funding from each state department and $4.8 billion from the public schools during the next year and a half. The proposal would also close up to 43 state parks, slash prison budgets and release nonviolent offenders early.
Mountain View Whisman administrators and board members agreed that although the proposed cuts were still under negotiation, the district should be prepared.
"What did the governor do? He got everyone's attention," Goldman said. "When everything is said and done, there will be a lot of politicking."
Since the budget proposal is still uncertain, the district has not yet planned specific cuts. But during the board meeting, Goldman discussed reducing costs through strategic student transfers, and shifting spending to better use state resources. He said the district will be tougher about approving transfers, which can cost money by schools to hire more teachers for additional students.
"These are going to be hard times; these are going to be emotional times," Goldman said. "Everything is on the table. There is nothing off limits."
While the governor's proposal will hurt all public schools, Mountain View Whisman is certain to be hit harder than the Mountain View Los Altos High School District, which is funded primarily through property taxes. Mountain View Whisman receives funding from both property taxes and the state to meet the basic aid guaranteed by Proposition 98, which the Governor's proposal would suspend.
The high school district's business superintendent, Joe Witt, said the district is currently in a "wait and see mode," but he estimated that it could lose between $240,000 and $830,000.
Though facing steeper cuts, Mountain View Whisman administrators are taking a similar approach. Goldman told everyone in the crowded school board room that the district was "planning, not panicking." With the governor and state politicians still negotiating, Goldman said, there should be a revised state budget in May, and as talks continue the district will provide a vehicle for community input.
"I am real confident we will get through this," said Superintendent Maurice Ghysels.
New parcel tax measure
Before the governor announced his budget cut proposal, the Mountain View Whisman school board had already started planning to renew its parcel tax, which currently raises $1.7 million a year by taxing property within the district's borders.
While it will not solve all the district's money issues, school board members hope the parcel tax will help keep existing programs running. The board is scheduled to decide at its Feb. 7 meeting whether to adopt a measure to renew the tax. If approved, the measure would then go onto the June 3 ballot.
Originally passed by Mountain View voters in 2004, the tax is determined by property size, with a cap of approximately $1,000. The new proposal would change the duration of the tax from five to eight years, and would increase tax rates. •
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