Rojas Feuds With Calif. Officials Over Funding for San Francisco
Plans by Superintendent Waldemar Rojas to trim some $11 million from the San Francisco district's budget this school year and next have angered state lawmakers.
District leaders say the cuts are needed to avert a budget crisis stemming from a feud with the state over who should pick up the tab for desegregation-related programs. Mr. Rojas contends that California owes the 64,000-student district $18 million for programs that were implemented between 1994 and 1997 as a part of a 1983 desegregation settlement.
State finance officials counter that the reimbursements were eliminated by a state law passed in 1994, and that the district acted irresponsibly by budgeting for money that was not guaranteed. The district's budget this school year is $520 million.
"The money they're asking for was discontinued during the recession years, when we had to make huge cuts everywhere," said Sandy Harrison, a spokesman for the state finance department. "Other districts facing the same situation budgeted accordingly. San Francisco acted as if nothing had changed."
It was the timing of the superintendent's March 17 announcement of budget cuts that most angered members of the state Assembly, the lower house of the legislature. The news came one day before the members debated, and ultimately passed, a $48.3 million bill that would reimburse 14 districts for desegregation-related programs.
As the bill would provide $12.7 million for San Francisco, money that would offset the $9.6 million in budget cuts that Mr. Rojas said are slated for next year, the announcement of the cuts was seen as a counter-productive and "highly manipulative" intimidation tactic to ensure passage of the bill, said Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, a Democrat who represents San Francisco.
"It was one of the stupidest moves I've ever seen a local do," said Mr. Shelley, who sponsored the reimbursement bill in the Assembly. "It nearly jeopardized the passage of the bill."
Mr. Rojas contends that he made the announcement on March 17 because it was the deadline for school districts to report to the state on their financial health. "They feel the world revolves around the General Assembly, but obviously that isn't the case," Mr. Rojas said.
Though the bill passed by a vote of 45-27 in the Assembly, it must still pass the Senate and win approval from Gov. Gray Davis before the districts will receive the money. The Democratic governor has not yet said whether he supports the measure.
Regardless of the fate of the reimbursement package, the San Francisco district will go forward with $1.35 million in budgetary reductions for the remainder of this school year and summer school programs. The cuts include $75,000 out of a $1 million gifted-and-talented program and a $550,000 spending freeze on administrative staffing and overtime.
"We don't have the money because [the state] didn't pay the bill," Mr. Rojas said. "We could have avoided all of this."
Vol. 18, Issue 30, Page 9