Budget passed, but uncertainty remains
Educators still trying to figure out how billions in cuts will affect local schools
It was a long, long wait. But even now, after a state budget was finally passed, local administrators remain uncertain about funding for next year, and how the cuts to education — $8.4 billion in all — will affect their students, staff and programs.
The new budget addresses California's $40 billion shortfall by increasing taxes, by borrowing, and by cutting funds from services, including schools. Locally, this means the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District could lose $2 million, the Mountain View Whisman School District faces around $3 million in cuts, and the Foothill-De Anza Community College District could be hit by $5.5 million in cuts.
Administrators say they hope to use reserves to shoulder the costs in the coming year, but they may have to cut classified staff and eliminate programs in the 2009-'10 school year.
"We are going to make the budget work," said Craig Goldman, chief financial officer of the elementary school district.
Goldman said he is presenting a budget for the remainder of this year to the district board on March 6, and said there should be no "personnel cuts this year." But he said he can't rule out cutting back on classified staff or programs next year.
To finish out this year, Mountain View Whisman will be dipping into reserves. Next year, the district will again fall back on reserves, along with the newly passed parcel tax. Administrators also will downsize some "categorical programs," depending on state funding.
The cuts affect different school districts differently. Under the new state budget, districts will lose 15 to 20 percent of funding for special programs known as "categorical spending." Revenue limit districts, which rely on state funding, will face the biggest cuts. Special education and class size reduction in kindergarten classes are safe from cuts, and schools will have some flexibility in moving funds around.
Administrators in the high school district say they were expecting $2 million in reductions, but are surprised by how much is being cut from adult education in the new budget. Though it is losing 15 percent of its funding for categorical programs, the high school district is not affected by revenue limit reductions.
A budget committee is scheduled to present possible cuts to the MVLA board during its March 9 meeting. The district will not lay off certified staff, according to Superintendent Barry Groves, but cuts could hurt special programs and, possibly, result in increased class sizes.
The district also is using reserves and "current funds to make it through the year," Groves said.
More than half of the district's cuts will hit the Adult School, which is losing over $1 million from its budget through 2010. The cuts come as more residents are returning to school to be retrained during the economic downturn, educators said.
"More people are requesting services, but we will be providing fewer," Groves said of the Adult School.
Community college administrators say they are experiencing a similar scenario, with more students and fewer resources. The Foothill-De Anza district did not receive a cost of living adjustment this year, even as health care costs for employees increased by 9 percent. As a result, administrators had to reduce hundreds of class sections, reduce contracts and freeze hiring.
"What you are doing is shredding community colleges when student demand is at an all-time high," Chancellor Martha Kanter said. •
E-mail Casey Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org