State schools chief warns more deep cuts could bankrupt 110 school districts

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Steven Cuevas/KPCC

Gov. Jerry Brown, accompanied by State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Torlaksonwith, visits with a fourth-grade class at Arlanza Elementary School in Riverside earlier this month.

The head of California’s K-12 warned on Thursday that another drastic cut in spending could bankrupt school districts. The State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction delivered that dire outlook at a Senate hearing in Sacramento.

Public schools and community colleges are facing budget cuts that could total $4.5 billion in cuts in the next budget year. State Superintendent Tom Torlakson says that would bankrupt more than 100 school districts.

“It’s almost unfathomable. It would be chaotic. It would be very costly,” he says.

Torlakson says the state would be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in administrative costs to make those districts whole.

And it comes back on the state and the state treasurer to decide if you keep the doors of that school district open at their schools or not,” says Torlakson. “And if the legislature does not have the money or the will, then districts could (again) face having the doors locked.”

School districts might also have to lay off tens of thousands of teachers, shorten the school year or scrap supplies. But the Republican Vice Chair of the Senate budget committee Bob Huff suggested an alternative way to save $2 billion: cut 5 percent of teachers’ pay.

You don’t have to cut the school year,” says Huff. “You don’t have to cut supplies. There’s many different ways you can carve it. But obviously, that’s in effect what the business managers that we have before us have to juggle. Some are easier to accomplish than others - I recognize that - but it doesn’t have to be just punishing the kids.

Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Mike Hanson told lawmakers he’s pulled rabbits out of hats before. He’s invested in supplies, and libraries and summer school programs by cutting elsewhere.

I can’t find the hat now,” says Hanson. “There’s no more rabbit. Let alone the hat.

The $4.5 billion cut to education would happen only if lawmakers fail to pass a plan to raise billions in tax revenue.

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