With the reality of a mid-year $1.7 billion cut to education looming, school administrators say the tools provided them by the Legislature to deal with the reduction are unworkable and unless significant changes are made – numerous districts could soon be facing real solvency issues.
In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month, the coalition – which includes the California County Superintendent’s Educational Services Association and the California School Boards Association – said the option districts have to trim the school year by seven days will only cover about two-thirds of the cut that is looking more and more likely.
And even that option is problematic because it is subject to labor negotiations.
“Such action must be negotiated with the local bargaining units,” said the letter. “An estimated 40 percent of districts have already negotiated closed contracts, which cannot be reopened except by mutual consent. Therefore, if the bargaining units refuse to discuss a shorter school year, that option is not available.”
The management group asked Brown and legislative leaders – who also received copies of the letter – to rewrite the budget agreement so that when the cuts are triggered, districts have a “one-time ability to either lay off teachers and increase class sizes or impose mandatory furloughs.”
Alice Petrossian, president of the Association of California School Administrators, one of six groups to sign the letter to Brown, said lawmakers need to be aware of the risks.
“We’ve cut through the skin, we’ve cut through the flesh; all that’s left is the bone,” she said. “We don’t believe we can take any more cuts, and we’re asking [the state] to think about the fact, as they look ahead, that we’re in trouble.”
The governor’s office had no comment regarding the letter late last week.
Alicia Trost, press secretary for Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the discussion was “very premature” since K-12 budget cuts would only occur if revenues fall short of expectations by $2 billion.
The California Teachers Association – who like Brown and practically everyone else in the state – remains hopeful of an economic upswing through December – also say it’s too early to talk about new methods for cutting school budgets.
“In terms of this discussion about whether the budget trigger is going to be pulled, we think that it’s premature speculation,” said Mike Myslinski, CTA spokesman. “We feel that the revenues will be there by mid-December to avoid mid-year cuts.”
At the same time, he said, teachers are just as concerned about the state of the education system as the groups who signed the letter to Brown.
“California schools have suffered unprecedented cuts…we all agree on that issue,” said Myslinski, adding that in the past four years, some 30,000 teachers and 10,000 support staff have lost their jobs. However, he said, “What we are focusing on is how do we generate more revenue for our public schools – not how do we find more areas to cut.”
Until revenues increase, however, school districts are preparing for the worst and that means cutting back somewhere. The question administrators have, Petrossian said, is where.
“Do we stop buying paper? Do we stop transporting kids? Do we stop answering phones?” she said. “Somewhere, folks have to put first the children of this state. Are they truly a priority? If they are, then the budget needs to reflect that.
She added, “We don’t believe we can take any more cuts, and we’re asking [the state] to think about the fact, as they look ahead, that we’re in trouble.”
Ed’s Note: Cabinet Report is the only comprehensive news service covering K-12 education issues in California. To subscribe visit http://www.siacabinetreport.com/home.aspx. Registration required. Selected stories have been shared with Capitol Weekly with permission from School Innovations & Advocacy, owner and publisher. To contact reporter Kim Beltran: firstname.lastname@example.org