Schools again face drastic cuts
With the mid-year state budget threatening to take more than $1 million from both local school districts, high school trustees asked during their meeting this week if it is time to start exploring possible cuts.
But administrators in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District said Monday they will not take any action until they know exact numbers from the state, especially since budget proposals are changing almost weekly. For now, Joe White, associate superintendent of business services, said he is in "wait and see" mode.
The state Legislature approved a budget in September, but since then California has accumulated a bigger shortfall, and politicians are now looking to cut additional funds from schools.
The state has a deficit of $11.2 billion, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed this month to slash educational funding starting January 2009 by $2.5 billion. He is also hoping for an additional $4.7 billion in new revenue, and is pushing for a sales tax increase of 1.5 cents, according to a press release from The California Association of School Business Officials. The governor hopes to pass these mid-year cuts by Nov. 30.
"One thing is for sure — we have a shortfall, and it is huge," White said of the state deficit.
Under his current proposal, Schwarzenegger wants to significantly reduce average daily attendance funding — money school districts normally receive for each student — cutting $300 for every student. This would slash more than $1 million from the high school district, which has approximately 3,478 students.
"It gives us a target number, but it is too early to see what will transpire," White said.
The Mountain View Whisman Elementary School District has around 4, 400 students, and would lose $1.3 million from these average daily attendance cuts. Under the governor's proposal, the district also would not receive cost of living adjustments, even as its expenses increase. The total effect would be about $1.5 million in cuts to Mountain View Whisman.
The elementary school district is a revenue limit district and receives the majority of its funding from the state, while the high school district is basic aid, meaning most of its funding comes from property taxes.
"There goes our reserve," Mountain View Whisman trustee Ellen Wheeler said during a board meeting last week after she found out about the cuts.
High school administrators say there is one slight upside, since the new proposal would grant more flexibility to school districts as they implement the reductions. Administrators could transfer funds which are traditionally allotted to specific programs, and the flexibility "gives us opportunities," White said.
When politicians passed the state budget in September, they did not cut as much from schools as originally expected, and the high school district was spared nearly $600,000. The district has not spent this money, and may be able to put it toward mid-year cuts.
Following a budget update during the high school board meeting on Monday, trustees asked if it was time to start preparing a budget advisory committee. During the last budget crisis, they turned to students, teachers, parents and community members to help plan the cuts.
But "For anyone to take action now, that would be short-sighted," White said, especially since state Republicans refused to support the tax increase. Without this extra revenue, the state may have to cut even more.
In the case of "significant" cuts, MVLA Superintendent Barry Groves said the district would form a budget advisory committee to make recommendations to the board. But Groves said he does not want to convene a committee without knowing the state's final numbers.
E-mail Casey Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org