Schools face 'ugly' budget | January 25, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - January 25, 2008

Schools face 'ugly' budget

PTAs plan march in Sacramento next month

by Natalie O'Neill

District Superintendent Rob Kessler encouraged parents and teachers in the San Ramon Valley to lobby in Sacramento, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the state education budget will be slashed by $4.3 billion in the 2008-2009 school year.

"There absolutely has to be a grassroots effort to express our collective outrage," Kessler said at last week's school board meeting.

The San Ramon Valley Unified School District is initiating a spending freeze and expects the statewide crisis could mean up to $8 million in impacts on the district next year, said district spokesman Terry Koehne.

"It's ugly," he said.

School board members are both heartbroken and furious.

"I'm ashamed of our governor," said Trustee Greg Marvel.

District financial advisors are "waiting for the dust to settle" before determining exactly where local funds will be chopped. But an overview shows a $3 million to $3.5 million decrease in unrestricted money from the state, about $130 for each pupil, and $1 million to $1.5 million in cuts to mandated programs like classroom size reduction and special education in the San Ramon Valley.

Additionally, the governor proposed no cost of living increase, which means the district has zero way of paying annual increases in health benefits to staff, insurance and utilities - another projected $3 million.

"The situation is very serious," said Mike Bush, assistant superintendent for business services. He presented the school board a summary of the budget situation.

After the summary, district staff asked school board trustees if they had any comments.

"Other than weeping?" said Trustee Paul Gardener

To cope with the state's $14.5 billion shortfall over the next 18 months the governor has proposed cutting money from state funded programs like public schools, state universities, state parks and agencies like child welfare services, CalWorks and foster care/adoption services. He will not consider any new taxes.

Schwarzenegger approved the 2007-2008 budget in August, and by fall there were telltale signs of an economic slowdown, Bush said.

"The state of California continues to balance its budget on the backs of children and the elderly," Koehne said. "You can't just rout education and expect there to still be quality."

Originally the governor dubbed 2008-2009 "the year of education."

"I guess the 'year of education' became the weekend of education," said Trustee Bill Clarkson.

District staff encourages parents and teachers to write letters to the governor and local legislators in protest.

On Feb. 27 a district-wide "march on Sacramento" has been organized with buses - largely full of PTA members - leaving from Danville.

When faced with budget cuts, the district typically tries to make them as far away from the classroom as possible.

In March, some teachers in the district will receive notice that there is a possibility they will be laid off. This is standard procedure if there is even a small possibility of staff layoffs, Koehne said.

"Those are things that dramatically impact people's lives, regardless of whether it comes to fruition," Koehne said.

The budget summary also noted the district expects to cut "per pupil" funds in half - or by $700,000 for the remainder of the year. The district is looking into a proposed parcel tax to help what is already the fourth least funded unified school district in the state.

Trustee Joan Buchanan said it's vital that local taxpayers choose to "invest in the future" by investing in kids and schools.

"It's easy to sit here and blame Sacramento but we elect these people," she said.

To join the march on Sacramento, call PTA member Patty Hoyt at 828-7592.


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