California Educators Brace Themselves for Proposed Budget Cuts

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Governor Schwarzenegger delivers his State of the State on Tuesday and releases his annual budget proposal two days later. In both, Schwarzenegger is expected to prescribe remedies for a budget gap over the next two years. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports that those proposals include mid-year cuts to public education.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: California's current budget is about three and a half billion dollars in the red. Governor Schwarzenegger's finance spokesman, H.D. Palmer, says the state's brought in less money than his department had hoped.

H.D. Palmer: Fueled in large part by the ongoing slump in the housing market and the meltdown of the subprime mortgage market, that has been ongoing and has been deeper than either we or other forecasters had projected.

Guzman-Lopez: Next year, Palmer says, the state could be $14 billion in the red. In response, the governor plans to cut funds for many state programs, including public schools. Tax increases are out of the question, Palmer adds. He wouldn't offer details.

Scott Plotkin, head of the California School Boards Association, says he has a pretty good idea what the Governor's planning. Plotkin and other education leaders met with Schwarzenegger behind closed doors in late November at an education conference in San Diego.

Scott Plotkin: One of the things that he brought up, is the fact that a report had come out the month before indicating that when the budget was signed by the governor in August, the amount of money that had been appropriated for the public schools, pursuant to Proposition 98, had actually been appropriated at a higher level than the economic situation would then indicate.

Guzman-Lopez: That's because the formula the state uses to guarantee education funds changes when the economy slumps. At the time, state officials calculated almost half a billion dollars in overpayments. Plotkin says the soft economy's ballooned that amount to more than one billon dollars.

Plotkin: If the governor were to propose that all of that amount be reduced from the public schools in the middle of the school year, that would be a pretty harmful proposal.

Guzman-Lopez: That's because school districts have already spent the money. Although the governor didn't reveal his exact plans, Plotkin says those school funds appeared to be in his crosshairs.

Both houses of the state legislature would have to sign off on any mid-year cuts. And they'd have to go through State Senator Jack Scott of Pasadena, the chair of an education subcommittee.

State Senator Jack Scott: Nobody enjoys a cut, and I'm not suggesting that that is something that I would relish, but I understand fully that sometimes crises occur, and as a result of crises we have to look at some rather drastic measures.

Guzman-Lopez: The law educators say the Governor may use to cut education money was intended to provide long-term financial stability for schools. L.A. Unified School Board Member Julie Korenstein says she's and classroom teachers are tired of dealing with the state's economic boom-and-bust.

Julie Korenstein: You can't plan ahead, you can't plan what types of innovative programs, you can't plan class size reduction, you can't plan hiring on more teachers so that students have a greater opportunity for more individualized attention.

Guzman-Lopez: Educators say that what the governor reveals this week about budget cuts will determine whether they'll stand by him or fight him.