Corrected: In an earlier version of this story we incorrectly identified California’s per-pupil expenditure ranking on Education Week‘s Quality Counts 2008 report. It should have said California was ranked 46th.
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Roughly 14,000 teachers in California are expected to learn this week whether the layoff warnings they received in March—a consequence of the state’s fiscal emergency—will turn into final notices that they will be without jobs in the fall.
Because of a quirk in the state’s budget calendar, however, those personnel decisions will still be based on final fiscal 2009 budget figures that probably won’t be available until the end of the summer.
“The legislature still has to decide on a budget,” said Jean Ross, the executive director of the California Budget Project, a Sacramento-based budget-analysis group. “We are still months out.”
As a result, districts might end up calling back some of the teachers who, by law, have to receive final layoff notices this week. On top of that uncertainty, the layoff notices have to be distributed before districts have heard from teachers who plan to retire before next school year.
“Retirements are a part of this equation,” said Mary Perry, the deputy director of EdSource, a Mountain View, Calif.-based policy-analysis organization. She added that having to make personnel decisions before key information is available is an example of “the hoops districts have to jump through.”
The Tax Question
Statewide economic forecasts suggest that the fiscal 2009 deficit might be even larger than the $14 billion to $16 billion Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced earlier this year in a proposed statewide budget of $100.9 billion.
That translates into cuts of about $4 billion in state aid to local districts, which in turn are slashing programs and payrolls. The proposed K-12 budget for fiscal 2009 is $43.7 billion.
Circumstances might improve for some districts, either because of a change in enrollment or because they were able to pass a real estate parcel tax, Ms. Perry said. (“Layoffs Loom Amid California’s Fiscal Crisis,” March 19, 2008.)
In recent weeks, Gov. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has also been floating the possibility that he would be willing to discuss a tax increase to respond to the budget crisis—something he has long said he was against. Since January, he has focused most of his energy on pushing for a constitutional amendment, the Budget Stabilization Act, that would automatically set money aside in a reserve fund to help when revenues are flat.
A tax increase “would be a major breakthrough for schools,” said Mike Myslinski, a spokesman for 340,000-member California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. He noted that Education Week’s Quality Counts 2008 report gave California a D-plus for its education financing system and ranked it 46th among the states in per-student spending.
The governor and the legislature “have to exercise their leadership in bringing in additional revenues to the state,” added David Sanchez, the president of the CTA.
If a tax increase is proposed to bring down the deficit, it would be in keeping with an earlier recommendation from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office that the legislature “examine additional revenue options as part of a more balanced approach.”
Lawrence J. McQuillan, the director of business and economic studies at the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, a Sacramento-based think tank, said that if Democrats, who control both houses of the state legislature, want to close the deficit with a tax increase, they’ll still need the votes of some Republicans.
In exchange, Republicans “should insist on a constitutional budget-reform plan with teeth that will help prevent future budget crises,” he said.
Programs, Jobs Cut
Teachers’ union leaders and members have been protesting the proposed cuts with a 12-stop “Cuts Hurt” bus tour that began several weeks ago in Inglewood, near Los Angeles, and will wrap up in Sacramento, the state capital, on May 20.
Local union members meet the bus when it rolls into town and hold press conferences to publicize how the budget cuts are affecting local schools.
Andrew Robinson, a 4th grade teacher at the 800-student Oak Park Elementary in San Diego—one of 12 teachers from his school to receive a pink slip—spoke to the local media when the bus made an appearance there. His wife is expecting a baby in July, and Mr. Robinson said being laid off couldn’t come at a worse time. It has been only five years since he received his teaching credential, and he has less seniority at his school than many other teachers.
Mr. Robinson said he also realizes there’s strong chance he could be called back in the fall. If not, starting a tutoring business is one of the options he is considering.
“I’m doing my best to just keep doing my job and finish out the school year,” he said in a phone interview. “But I feel that after a lot of time, and a lot of money, and a lot of energy, it would be a shame to walk away from public school teaching.”
Several local union affiliates throughout the state are also holding demonstrations, such as picketing and singing along with Angry, Tired Teachers, a band made up of educators from the 1,900-student Hayward High School in the San Francisco Bay Area. The group’s “budgetwelooza” tour includes several stops this month.
Teachers aren’t the only ones being laid off. The positions of noncertified school employees are also being slashed.
“Classified school employees play a vital role in the day-to-day operations of any successful school system,“ state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said during an April 30 press conference on the issue. “A few months ago, it may have been difficult to imagine the severity of these proposed cuts to education, but now we are beginning to see clearly the full extent to which they are affecting education in California.”
Regardless of what happens over the summer with the state budget, districts have had to plan for the worst. Information collected by the California Department of Education provides a snapshot of how school officials are planning to absorb the expected cutbacks in state aid.
In the 10,200-student Alameda Unified School District, more than $2.5 million will be cut by eliminating music programs in the early grades. Class sizes in 9th grade might be increased to 29 students on average from 20, and $20,000 might be cut from the district’s sports programs, in a school system budget of about $85 million in fiscal 2008.
In the 88,000-student Long Beach district, one of the state’s largest, 10 assistant principal positions have been cut, pay for teacher substitutes is being reduced, and working hours for nonteaching staff members are being shortened. Cuts are also being proposed to summer school, sports programs, and transportation services, and fees are increasing for school supplies and a summer science camp.
Overall, Long Beach is cutting roughly $44 million out of a $740 million fiscal 2008 budget for K-12 education.
The El Rancho Unified district already had been considering closing elementary schools because of declining enrollment in the district. But the looming budget cuts “precipitated the final decision,” said Norbert Genis, the superintendent of the 11,000-student district east of Los Angeles.
“Closing four schools will save us $1.7 million, but will not erase our total deficit of $5.8 million caused by the state education reductions,” he said.
In San Francisco, meanwhile, school officials last week said they would rescind the 535 layoff notices sent out in March, the Associated Press reported. They acted after the city’s board of supervisors pledged up to $20 million to help fill the district’s budget gap.