Bay Area schools, colleges brace for state budget cuts 

Waiting game: If state revenue comes in below projections, it would trigger reductions to higher education, with the potential to spread cuts to K-12 schools. (Examiner file photo) - WAITING GAME: IF STATE REVENUE COMES IN BELOW PROJECTIONS, IT WOULD TRIGGER REDUCTIONS TO HIGHER EDUCATION, WITH THE POTENTIAL TO SPREAD CUTS TO K-12 SCHOOLS. (EXAMINER FILE PHOTO)
  • Waiting game: If state revenue comes in below projections, it would trigger reductions to higher education, with the potential to spread cuts to K-12 schools. (Examiner file photo)
  • Waiting game: If state revenue comes in below projections, it would trigger reductions to higher education, with the potential to spread cuts to K-12 schools. (Examiner file photo)

School and college officials across California are bracing themselves for bad news about state revenue, which could mean deep midyear cuts to education.

The potential cuts, which Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers built into this year’s budget, would be triggered by revenue projections below what state officials predicted last summer. Although the cuts won’t be announced until Dec. 15, numbers the Department of Finance is expected to release this month should give schools and colleges a clue about the future.

“The finance people are doing their best to make predictions, but it’s extremely difficult to predict,” said Nancy McGee, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Office of Education.

Last month, the California Department of Finance reported that state revenue was $654 million below projections. If that shortfall hits $1 billion, it would trigger cuts to higher education and an array of other government services. If the shortfall hits $2 billion, K-12 schools would face cuts of up to $250 per student and community colleges would take an additional hit.

Mike Uhlenkamp, a CSU system spokesman, said that system would probably cover any cuts this year by postponing projects. If the cuts are ongoing, that could mean trimming programs.

Ricardo Vazquez, a UC system spokesman, said new cuts would be covered by central administration, perhaps by using endowment funds./P>

“It would not lead to any new fees,” he promised.

Many area school districts assembled budgets last summer that anticipated the cuts.

“If the trigger is pulled, SFUSD doesn’t plan to make any midyear cuts,” San Francisco Unified spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said. “But it could mean that more cuts than anticipated will be necessary in subsequent years.”

Blythe said the district, which is already expecting a leaner budget, would need to reduce its expenses by an additional $15 million a year.

The state is allowing districts to cope with lost funds by canceling up to seven days of school. It’s an offer that few districts are taking advantage of, because most teacher contracts have a set calendar.

Raul Parungao, chief business official at the Redwood City School District, said that a contingency clause in his district’s contract would allow up to six furlough days. That would save the district $1.7 million, which would cover most of the potential $2.2 million loss.

“We still have to figure out where to get the half a million,” he said.

San Carlos School District Superintendent Craig Baker said that his district would cover any cuts with reserve funds, but the future looked grim.

“I think I’m getting immune at this point,” he said, “because I’ve been here for three years and every year has been like this. And yes, it is frustrating.”

The triggers and their consequences

If state tax revenue is $1 billion short, California will cut $601 million, including:

$100M: From CSU system
$100M: From UC system
$30M: From community colleges
$16M: From California State Library
$23M: From Department of Education child care programs

If state tax revenue is $2 billion short, cuts will increase by $1.86 billion, including:

$248M: From K-12 transportation reimbursement
Up to $1.5B: From K-12 education
$72M: From community colleges

Source: California State Association of Counties

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

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