The revised state budget Gov. Jerry Brown released Monday does not include any major new cuts to public schools, in spite of recent projections that California’s deficit has ballooned. That news offers little consolation to the state’s 1,000 public school districts.
Welfare and social service programs will bear the brunt of the cuts. Gov. Brown said public schools are the big winners in his revised budget projections.
Louis Freedberg, executive director of the education think tank EdSource, said districts were waiting for that headline.
“When they heard the news that the budget deficit had escalated by several billion dollars I think school districts were preparing for even more bad news," he said. "At the same time, the problem is that school districts are already facing a pretty grim fall."
Freedberg said the vast majority of school districts are preparing for cuts of about $5 billion to education when classes resume in September. That worst case scenario’s inevitable, Gov. Brown warns, if voters reject two tax increase measures on the November ballot.
“If people say no, then we’ll have those trigger cuts, and it will be felt at UC, it’ll be felt at the Cal State campuses, and it will be felt at every school district in the state," Brown said.
UC Berkeley education researcher Bruce Fuller said Brown could be steering clear of additional education cuts because he has to.
“Under Gov. Schwarzenegger and now Jerry Brown, the state owes school districts about $9.6 billion under the voter approved Proposition 98, the so-called 'guarantee' for K through 12," Fuller said. "To go deeper could really invite a court challenge."
It’s been years since school districts have received guaranteed money from the state. Capistrano Unified’s budgeted for a $51 million worst-case scenario cut, said spokesman Marcus Walton.
“The board has approved 560 layoff notices to go out this year," he said. "That’s 560 employees potentially without jobs for the next school year."
That could mean that one in four teachers in the district may lose their jobs. But that’ll take care of only a portion of the $51 million cut, so Capistrano Unified will have to negotiate more employee reductions.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Board President Ben Allen said the takeaway from the governor’s May budget revise is that educators and parents need to get behind one of the November tax increase ballot initiatives that’ll raise money for schools.
“We’re going to work like crazy to let people know how much the state budget impacts basic quality of life issues in our state and in communities like ours,” Allen said.
Allen said his school board may split on whether to endorse the governor’s tax increase ballot measure or a different one backed by Pasadena civil rights lawyer Molly Munger.
Therein lies another problem. As public school districts in California face large budget cuts, education allies are split on the two main ways to bail those schools out.