Tuesday, July 21, 2009


By Katy Murphy and Theresa Harrington | MediaNews staff | San Jose Mercury News

Posted: 07/21/2009 05:03:38 PM PDT | Updated: 07/21/2009 05:37:56 PM PDT

Summer school students at Ygnacio Valley High School leave campus Tuesday July 21, 2009 in Concord, Calif. The newly-crafted state budget includes huge cuts to schools. In the Mt. Diablo district, trustees eliminated summer school for elementary and middle school students and may not offer summer courses for those students in 2009-10, because of state cuts. (Karl Mondon/Staff) Click photo to enlarge -

7/22 -- Bay Area school districts and colleges, which have already slashed millions of dollars from their programs this year, are bracing for more layoffs, unpaid vacation days and a shortened academic year as a result of California's tentative budget deal.

Crafted by top lawmakers on Monday to close the state's $26 billion deficit, the agreement contains the deep cuts to public education that the governor proposed in late May. The new reductions will include an estimated $6.1 billion from school districts and community colleges — including cuts made retroactively for the 2008-09 academic year — and an additional $2.8 billion from the University of California and California State University systems.

The budget agreement, which still must make it through the Legislature, includes a provision to eventually repay schools about $9.3 billion when the budget outlook improves, although no timeline is attached to that promise. It does not suspend Proposition 98, the mandatory minimum funding guarantee for schools and community colleges, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently proposed.

But those concessions don't ease the immediate fiscal reality facing California's public education systems. In February, the state cut spending on school districts and community colleges by about $8 billion for the same time period. The Oakland school district could close schools and increase class sizes this year. The Mt. Diablo district has already laid off more than 200 teachers, increased class sizes and eliminated summer programs for elementary and middle school students.

School officials in some districts, including those in San Mateo and Berkeley, also anticipated the $6 billion hit when they created their 2009-10 budgets.

"We were prepared for this," said Bill Huyett, superintendent of Berkeley's public schools. Huyett said his district cut funding for textbooks, facility repairs, school buses and nonteaching staff, and that it is only managing to keep its small class sizes because of a locally approved tax levy.

"We cut everything we could to make things balanced," he said.

College students and employees will also feel the pain. Both of the state's university systems have increased student fees, as have the state's community colleges, and California State University's employee union ratified a staff furlough Monday — a measure the faculty is also considering.

"This is the largest hit to the CSU system we've ever seen," said Russell Kilday-Hicks, vice president for representation for the California State University Employees Union, which agreed to a furlough as an alternative to thousands of layoffs.

"It looks like this is the beginning of some bad years ahead."

Helen Benjamin, chancellor of the Contra Costa Community College District, said the new budget proposal hikes the anticipated cuts to the community college system by $136 million, from $800 million to $936 million.

"That number is quite a bit larger than what we had planned for," Benjamin said. "We are anxious to see the details so we can know the impact.

"Right now, we just don't know. They're saying this is the deepest cut in the history of the California Community Colleges."

Student fees will be raised from $20 to $26 per unit and Benjamin estimates the district will have to turn away 5,500 students.

David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, said he is disappointed that the budget includes additional cuts, but that his union is pushing for state lawmakers to pass the deal. "It's time to move on and get the state back to fiscal solvency," he said.

His message to lawmakers? "Vote for the damn budget."

A private firm that helps K-12 school districts interpret the state budget is advising them to wait until the Legislature votes on the plan before scrambling to act because changes could be made after legislators debate it Thursday.

"It continues to be a very volatile time for school agency budgets," Ron Bennett, president of School Services Inc., wrote in an e-mail to California districts, "and while the agreement on a deal is a strong indicator that change is on the way, it's still too early to make adjustments to local agency budgets."

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