So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Prop. 30: OC schools struggle amid anti-tax fervor

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Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

Public school educators from north Orange County protest to preserve education funding in front of the Fullerton offices of Republican state Assemblyman Chris Norby. Orange County, home to a strong anti-tax contingent, will also have its schools face millions in cuts should Prop. 30 not pass Tuesday.

During the last few months, California school districts have scrambled to prepare budgets and contingency plans for Prop. 30 — in some cases, walking a tightrope between advocacy and education.

But school officials in Orange County have been trying to balance the case for their survival with the fact that their conservative constituents are often ideologically opposed to tax hikes that would stave off more cuts.

This difficult balance is evident at the Capistrano Unified School District, the county's second-largest school district. The district, known locally as "Capo Unified," is located in relatively affluent, majority white, mostly Republican south Orange County. Its student population is 61 percent white and less than 25 percent Hispanic.

The district's students have already lost a week of instruction this year and stand to lose two more weeks if Prop. 30 does not pass. But Capo Unified admnistrators don't talk about that.

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Education officials react to an agreement that aims to freeze UC, CSU tuition hikes

Jerry Brown Reveals Revised California Budget Proposal

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 14: California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference about the state budget on May 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

It's not an easy time to be in public education in California. 

Under a budget agreement reached between legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown, the University of California and Cal State University systems would each lose $125 million in state funds for the 2013-14 year if the systems increase tuition this fall.

And yet, both systems have more than a $100 million hole in their 2012 budgets, primarily due to severe cuts in state funding.

Even more problematic for budget planners: The governor's budget presumes that an initiative to raise sales tax and the levy on higher earners will be approved by voters in November. If not, then both systems would each be hit with a $250 million cut.

"What this is designed to do is to be able to deal with the issue of affordability not in this coming year but in the following year," said H.D. Palmer, the deputy director for the California Department of Finance. "So we can address the issue of affordability that's on the minds of a lot of students and a lot of their parents."

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Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction weighs in on budget

Gov. Jerry Brown

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference on May 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Brown proposes $8.3 billion cuts in California to help close a projected $16 billion budget shortfall.

California’s former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has been traveling the state to brief school districts on the governor’s proposed budget and its potential effects on education. He now works for the educational consulting firm School Innovations & Advocacy.

Here's an excerpt of a brief Q & A with him:

Q: Whats the good and the bad of this budget? 

A: The good news for this is we know the budget’s going to pass on time, we know it’s going to be signed, we certainly believe. And I think that might remove some uncertainty. But that uncertainty is going to continue, it’s going to because of the triggers, the potential reductions, based upon the November election.

Q: What does this budget look like compared to others you've seen? 

A: This budget contains more major policy initiatives in it than any that I’ve ever seen and I’ve been working on state budgets since 1982. This is a budget that totally rewrites education school finance so that we don’t have money going out the door based upon money for kids in schools at school districts based upon some historical and traditional criteria. It really changes the distribution formula significantly. It proposed to eliminate most of our categorical programs. It proposes to change our mandate program, so it really lets the state off the hook for those school districts that are going to seek reimbursement for maximum remuneration of services that they’re going to deliver.

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School districts grapple with an uncertain budget

Whittier City School District officials talk budget

Tami Abdollah/KPCC

Five officials from Whittier City School District debrief after a local presentation on the governor's May revision of the budget. (May 25, 2012)

More than a 120 school officials from about 80 districts throughout Southern California met at the L.A. County Office of Education in Downey on Thursday to review the state budget and discuss what it means for them. 

The education consulting firm School Innovations & Advocacy offered a sobering budget briefing. California faces a deficit of nearly $16 billion under the governor’s latest budget plan, and education could be in for almost $6 billion in cuts - unless voters approve Gov. Jerry Brown’s initiative to raise taxes. 

"The uncertainty is going to be a real challenge" said Jack O’Connell, the firm’s chief education officer, who is also the former state superintendent of public instruction. He helped conduct the briefing.

"The potential triggers, which, if the governor’s proposed initiative on the November ballot does not pass, you will see some reductions in public education to each and every one of our public schools in our state.”

After the meeting, five officials from the Whittier City School District sat at a table to debrief. The district operates 11 schools - mostly for primary grades - with more than 6,000 students. Its employees already take a handful of unpaid days off.

Like districts across the state, Whittier would lose several roughly $440 per student if the initiative to raise taxes doesn’t pass, says its fiscal services director Maricela Barba.

“That’s $3 million that will not materialize in our budget although we’re building our budget as if we’re going to get the money. We have to pay salaries, we have to buy supplies. We have to pay for services, we have to pay for everything, but then we will not receive those funds if the tax initiative doesn’t pass.” 

Barba tries to budget without knowing how much money the state will send. When California issues IOUs, she has to take out loans.

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It's gotten bad: Budget issues literally push one school official to her hands and knees

Before the pledge, she got down on her hands and knees in front of the horseshoe and began a prayer to God — asking for forgiveness and asking for all in the room to repent for their sins.

That's how Inglewood Unified School Board vice president Trina Williams started the district's first meeting of the year, reports my KPCC colleague Adolfo Guzman-Lopez.

The night apparently didn't get any less dramatic, as the board discussed the likelihood that it would run out of money in the next few months and be forced to declare bankruptcy. That would likely mean the state would strip the school board of its powers and take over the operations of the 12,000-student district.

Guzman-Lopez reported over KPCC's airwaves today:

"The district expects an $18 million deficit by the end of this fiscal year. The superintendent recommended taking out loans, freezing expenses and laying off employees. Inglewood schools have already dismissed 223 workers, mostly teachers, to cut the deficit. The teachers’ union president said a declaration of bankruptcy and a state takeover would stem the flow of red ink."

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