By: PHILIP K. IRELAND - Staff Writer
North County educators decry governor's plan
NORTH COUNTY ---- Educators across North County said last week that they must hack millions of dollars from their annual spending plans after the governor recently unveiled a proposed budget that calls for "across-the-board" cuts in funding to most state agencies.
Midyear layoffs, larger class sizes and school closures are among the ideas administrators said they were considering.
Citing a projected $14 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency during his state-of-the-state address Jan. 10.
He ordered most state agencies to gird for what he described as a 10 percent reduction in expected state funding. That number was based on what agencies received this year and the increases they expect next year.
In truth, school districts will see an actual 2 percent reduction in per-student revenue next year, said Sandy Silberstein, assistant executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials.
She said programs such as special education, known as categorical programs, can expect a 6.5 percent cut. Those programs now account for about 30 percent of state money flowing to school districts now, she said
Schwarzenegger proposes giving the state's public schools and community colleges $400 million less than they had anticipated for the remainder of this fiscal year. He also proposes cutting $4.4 billion in anticipated spending for the fiscal year that begins in July.
Carlsbad Superintendent John Roach called the governor's command for across-the-board cuts "cowardly, lazy and thoughtless."
"When a governor proposes an across-the-board cut, he's taking what work should be his and giving it to others," Roach said Thursday. "Slashing everyone equally doesn't take any real thought."
North County school districts now get an average base allocation of $5,500 from the state to educate each student. Under Schwarzenegger's plan, which must be approved by the legislature, school districts will get about $5,390 per student in 2008 ---- $110 less than last year and hundreds less than they had anticipated next year, officials said.
At the same time, the costs of labor, utilities and materials continue to rise, a fact that will mean "drastic cuts" in personnel and services, North County school administrators said.
According to district officials:
Carlsbad Unified School District would need to cut $4.3 million in spending. Escondido Union School District would need to cut $12.6 million spending. Poway Unified School District would need to cut $12 million in spending. Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District would need to cut $4 million in spending. San Dieguito Union High School District would need to cut $3.7 million. Oceanside Unified School District would need to cut $12 to $14 million.
Oceanside Unified officials have already acted. On Tuesday, trustees approved plans to lay off 15 temporary teachers when the semester ends in two weeks.
Oceanside Unified, which operates on a $175 million budget, has also frozen hiring of "nonessential" employees. The actions will save the district about $600,000, Superintendent Larry Perondi said Thursday.
"This is my 33rd year in education and this is about as bad as I've seen," said Perondi. He said plans to "turn over every rock in the district" looking for ways to trim spending.
Officials in other school districts said this week they are in the early stages of developing budget-cutting plans.
Carlsbad's Walter Freeman said the district will try to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. He ticked off a litany of questions to show that no department will be spared the budgetary knife.
"How many district office staff can we afford? How much maintenance? How often do we need to cut the grass? What personnel services are necessary? What level of payroll staff can do the job? How many psychologists can we afford? How many counselors, nurses and teacher aides that support classroom teachers can we afford?"
Freeman was among several district officials who said the fiscal crisis will hurt the quality of education in the classroom.
"It's going to have a dramatic impact on our educational program," said Poway Unified Superintendent Don Phillips, who oversees Poway's $259.2 million spending budget.
"It's just a really unfortunate series of events coming together and unfortunately our students are the real losers in this," he said.
Poway will look at increasing class sizes and reducing support services as part of the cost-cutting solution, Phillips said.
Phillips said the budget woes are compounded by the fact that districts went through major cuts in the 2003-04 school year.
"(We) haven't fully recovered from the first cuts and this one will take us at least as deep as the last time," he said.
"It's devastating," agreed Superintendent Lou Obermeyer of the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District. He said the district had already scaled back its spending dramatically over the past five or six years.
To save more money, officials in Valley Center are now looking to close the district's Upper Elementary School and relocate fifth-graders to the Lower Elementary and sixth-graders to Valley Center Middle School, Obermeyer said,
The Vista Unified School District could end up getting $4 million less from the state than expected, said Pam Hayden, chief financial officer for the district, which has an annual budget of slightly more than $200 million.
"There's no way we would be able to handle that kind of budget reduction without making cuts," she said.
The district's first budget priority is to keep cuts away from the classroom, Hayden said.
However, that may be difficult. The district has already cut $28 million in planned expenditures over the past several years because revenues did not increase as anticipated, Hayden said.
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," she said.
Staff writers Stacy Brandt, Shayna Chabner, and John Meyer contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Philip K. Ireland at (760) 901-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.