Little change with revised budget

SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education discussed Wednesday the effect of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed update to the state budget, which reflects an additional $3 billion for California schools for the upcoming year, with $32 million possibly going to San Diego schools.

Despite the proposed increase, there will be almost no change, Government Relations Director Monica Henestroza said. The state still faces an almost $10.8 billion deficit for the upcoming year.

“There is a little cause for optimism and hope, and perhaps there's less uncertainty, but the uncertainty has not been mitigated,” Chief Financial Officer Ron Little said. “It's still there and the risks are still there.”

The proposed revised budget assumes a tax extension, which will require a special election, Henestroza said. If a special election was held in November, the state would only be able to guarantee five months of revenue and the rest of the year's funding would be left up to the discretion of the voters. A June election would only guarantee funding for a year.

“Real budget progress has been made since January,” Henestroza said. But she warned that revenue is still unstable and tax extensions are still uncertain. Without a tax extension, balancing the budget would require even larger reductions in education.

State Democrats vowed not to suspend Proposition 98 tax extensions, which guarantees funding to schools. The governor pledged to further adjust Proposition 98 for 2011-12 by including legislation requiring the state to begin repaying $8.2 billion in debts to schools.

Tax extensions also depend on enough state Republicans voting to put them on the ballot, Henestroza said, but the district can be flexible in other areas such as the length of the school year, currently at 175 days, and imposing furloughs.

The board voted unanimously to pass the furlough days memorandum of understanding between the district and the California School Employees Association, which allowed employees to voluntarily work on any of the five scheduled furlough days, but will be required to take an alternate furlough day before the end of the school year.

Little said without any tax extensions in which the district will operate with a $50 million deficit during the 2011-12 school year.

Even in a “best case scenario” the district is still projected to spend $23 million more than its revenue, but will have a $40 million budget surplus, Little said. The deficit will continue to grow in the next two years and is estimated to be $100 million in 2013-14, exhausting the balanced budget surplus.

Reasons for the deficit are ongoing health care coverage costs for district employees and their families at approximately $10 million annually, negotiated 3 percent salary increases per year, expected to cost the district an estimated $12 million next year, and the expiration of federal stimulus funds.

“The question is not whether employees deserve raises or not, the question is whether we can afford them,” said Board Member Scott Barnett.

Little told the board to seize this opportunity to shrink their long term structural deficit and to maximize their flexibility while discouraging further restorations.

Little said that restoring the class size to 24 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade classes would cost the district $26 million in the upcoming year and would balloon up to $164 million by 2013.

“We should get the most bang for our buck in terms of class size,” board Vice President John Lee Evans said.

The Human Resource Services Division recommended the board uphold layoff notices to district teachers and staff.

The exact number of district teachers and classified staff layoffs will not be known until June.

Several parents, teachers and students spoke out against budget cuts, including Eileen Morena, principal at Fay Elementary, who said of the 27 teachers of more than 700 students at her school, eight are facing possible layoffs.

More than 100 people attended the meeting, some to protest the budget cuts who wore shirts printed with “Together We Are STRONGER” and held up signs during the meeting, held at the Eugene Brucker Educational Center on Normal Street.

Kindergarten and first-grade students from Barnard Elementary performed a song demonstrating the Chinese language skills taught at the school. Other Barnard students spoke out against possible cuts to the school's language program.

Categories: KUSI