By Theresa Harrington
Newly elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction declared a “state of financial emergency in California’s schools today,” while admitting he didn’t know how that might change when Gov. Jerry Brown releases his 2011 budget Monday.
This announcement came the day after Mt. Diablo schools Superintendent Steven Lawrence told a packed Parent Advisory Council meeting on Wednesday that the district’s outlook could be bleak if anticipated cuts are part of the governor’s plan to balance the state’s out-of-whack budget.
“Having Tom (Torlakson) as a local resident and a local teacher and having him now as the Superintendent of School is great,” Lawrence said. “But I saw a lot of letters from (former) Superintendent (Jack) O’Connell talking about how devastating the (state) cuts were to the education budgets, and I didn’t see them having an impact on the dialogue.”
He urged parents to contact their legislators to urge them not to cut education funding. Specifically, he asked them to urge the state to reinstate mental health funding vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and to distribute all the money promised to schools in the adopted budget, instead of making cuts recommended by the Legislative Analyst.
Lawrence distributed three versions of the district’s 2010-13 budgets, noting that each assumes a different level of state funding, based on the previous governor’s adopted budget and the Legislative Analyst Office’s recommendations for cuts.
He said Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards would prepare a memo explaining the different budgets so that council members could more easily pass the information onto their respective site councils.
Lawrence also promised to look into presenting budget information in a more “reader-friendly” way on the district’s website, in response to a suggestion from a parent who noted that some other districts do a far better job of making their budgets easily accessible and understandable online. For example, the San Jose school district provides a general budget overview for parents in English and Spanish at http://www.sjusd.org/school/district-new/info/C138/. And unlike Mt. Diablo, the San Ramon district has a “Budget” tab on its Home Page, making it easy to find: http://www.srvusd.k12.ca.us/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1218730286179
The first version of the Mt. Diablo budget, labeled “AB3632 blue pencil 2010/11 only” is the most optimistic. Yet, even this projects a deficit of nearly $12.6 million by 2012-13.
This is the budget the board adopted as “qualified,” meaning it shows the district can pay its bills through the end of next year, but may not be able to meet all of its financial obligations the third year out.
This budget shows the district absorbing $2.4 million in mental health costs as the result of Schwarzenegger’s blueline veto of AB3632 funding that used to pay for special education students who cannot be accommodated by the district. However, this budget only shows the district absorbing this through 2010-11, with the assumption that the state would restore mental health funding in subsequent years.
“Some of these students have significant needs,” Lawrence said. “We have some that are fire-starters and did some atrocious things and needed to be placed in residential facilities.”
This budget also shows $8.5 million set aside as a “state deferral,” meaning it has been promised to the district, but could be cut. If it is cut, the deficit in 2012-13 would be $18.5 million and the district would be unable to pay its bills next year.
The second budget, labeled “AB 3632 blue pencil ongoing,” shows the mental health funding cut continuing through 2013, at $4.8 million a year starting next fall. This would result in a $17.4 million deficit in 2112-13.
The third budget, labeled “AB 3632 blue pencil ongoing, $252 cut ongoing (3.85 percent in out years),” shows the above scenario with the assumption that the $8.5 million in deferred funding would also be cut. According to this scenario, the district would be nearly $18.8 million in the hole by the end of next year and $44.6 million in the red by 2012-13.
Lawrence said he is determined to balance the budget to prevent a state takeover. He noted that union negotiations are ongoing, but said everyone is waiting to see what the governor will present on Monday.
“Depending on the level of cuts,” he said, “we will have to make cuts.”
He also hinted at other ways to offset cuts, stressing the importance of alerting the community to the dire straits the district is facing.
“There are other revenue sources we are looking at to see if we can tap into,” he said. “But, we’re not going to publicly say, ‘We’re going to go for this or that.'”
The council also discussed the school closure process, which I will write about in a separate post.
Are you motivated to contact your state legislators regarding the education budget?