GLENDALE — Nineteen months since congressional Democrats passed the $787-billion stimulus and recovery bill, local school districts continue to fend off budget cuts and protect employee jobs.
In other words, they’re not out of the woods.
In Burbank, district officials used all $6.8 million in stimulus funds to plug holes in their operating budget. Glendale Unified took in more than $21 million in stimulus funds reserved for stabilizing state and municipal institutions, according to the watchdog website, EdMoney.org.
Neither figure includes additional stimulus dollars released earlier this month from the federal education jobs bill. Both districts are waiting for the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to approve a budget before they consider restoring a shortened school year.
“The revenue has dropped so much,” said Eva Lueck, the chief financial officer of Glendale Unified. “One-time revenue and one-time sources … that is the thread we’re hanging by.”
It’s a similar feeling in Burbank Unified, where Supt. Stan Carrizosa likened the federal spending to the jetliner that crash-landed with no casualties in the Hudson River last year.
“It’s helped soften the landing, but the inevitable is still here,” he said. “We’re still having to take a big operation — public schools — and land them in a different level of funding than what we’ve had before.”
Both districts used their federal dollars to retain jobs, although some temporary employees were lost. More than 85% of school districts nationwide used funding to save or create jobs, according to a federal oversight survey of 16 states and Washington, D.C.
But the Sept. 20 Government Accountability Office report found that education spending was higher in 2009 than 2010. California appears poised to add to the $17 billion in cuts to K-12 education the last two years. More than half of school districts surveyed expected additional budget cuts into this school year.
Burbank Unified has withstood more than $42.6 million in cuts since mid-2008. Glendale Unified has cut spending by roughly $32.5 million since 2007, including $11.4 million this current school year and $7.6 million last year.
And so the legacy of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in Glendale and Burbank school districts is one of easing, but not erasing, state cuts to public education, said Greg Krikorian, the Glendale Unified Board of Education president.
“It was a mixed bag,” he said. “It helped us survive this first wave we got hit with, [but] there’s no sustainability in this.”
No amount of government spending can solve the budget crises facing school districts, said Jo Maney, a spokeswoman for Rep. David Dreier (R- San Dimas), who voted against last year’s stimulus bill.
“Until we start getting our fiscal house in order at every level of government, these questions are going to be out there,” she said. “What needs to happen is fiscal priorities need to be established, a clear path forward needs to be established, and that’s not happening in Washington or Sacramento.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said school districts would be in worse shape had the federal government not taken action.
“Without that infusion of resources, given the state’s budget crisis, class sizes would’ve increased dramatically, and a lot of pink slips would’ve gone out and stayed out,” he said. “It was not intended as a permanent fix.”
Of all 50 states, California ranks near the bottom in per-pupil education funding, which represents about 80% of Glendale Unified revenue and 70% in Burbank Unified.
Restoring normalcy to both districts would require time travel to another era, like the 1960s or at minimum, the mid-2000s, when California spent more on public education than it does now, officials in both districts said.
“If you did it that way, it’s millions of dollars to the district,” Krikorian said. “We’d really love to avoid any anxiety with our staff with what we had to go through last year.”
It’d also restore public education as an engine of economic growth for the future, Schiff said.
“The longer-term challenge is we need to remain the most innovative, productive, entrepreneurial people on Earth if we are to maintain our quality of life, [and] we can’t do that unless we have an education system second to none,” he said. “We need to keep that in mind too as we deal with the short-term emergency.”