At first glance, it's hard to see how a $1.8 billion windfall for California's public schools could raise complaints. When Gov. Gray Davis, legislative leaders, and the state's largest teachers' union agreed on a plan last month to send districts that part of the state's budget with no strings attached, cheers could be heard from Eureka to Chula Vista.
But there were rumblings, too. The superintendent of the Sacramento schools pointed out to the local newspaper that despite the no-strings provision, nearly all the proposed $15 million for his 51,000-student district would have to be spent on salary hikes.
Then last week, the city's school board, which is facing a budget deficit, said the new money could indirectly create as much as a $3.5 million shortfall.
That's because local contracts require that if one employee group gets a raise because of a state aid adjustment, then others must, too. While the $1.8 billion would not be earmarked for any particular employees under the plan, the extra money reflects an effort to compensate for inflation adjustments the state withheld from general operating aid in the early 1990s. That aid doesn't cover "categorical" programs, such as special education, however, so the district must foot the bill for raises of staff members in those programs.
The Elk Grove district, which encompasses some of the city of Sacramento, operates under labor contracts similar to those of its neighbor, as do most of the state's largest districts. Elk Grove would automatically plow most of its proposed windfall—around $13 million—into salaries. Still, officials in the district—which is not facing Sacramento's budget crunch—are celebrating.
"To me, it's one of the best problems that's come along in years," said David W. Gordon, the schools chief in the growing 45,000-student Elk Grove system. "Enhancing teacher salaries helps us a lot because we need to be competitive to get the top talent."
Vol. 19, Issue 39, Page 18