Trustee urges repeal of state law

COSTA MESA — A Newport-Mesa school board trustee on Tuesday night urged the community to speak out against a new law that in her words goes against the fiduciary responsibility districts have to taxpayers.

Trustee Martha Fluor asked residents to write to their legislators and ask them to repeal the contentious sections of state Assembly Bill 114, which withholds districts' rights to lay off teachers next year.

The legislation also removes the requirement for districts to prove that they can meet their financial obligations not just for that year, but for two more.

"Just keep the pressure on," she pleaded at the school board meeting. "I can't tell you how much this is a really, really bad thing."

Fluor, who also serves as president of the California School Board Assn., last month wrote a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown on behalf of the CSBA asking him to repeal the offending sections of the law.

The N-MUSD board hasn't officially endorsed repealing the law, but "there is a consensus that it is truly bad legislation," board Vice President Dave Brooks said Thursday.

Removing the requirement for a three-year balanced budget "artificially" makes districts look better, Deputy Supt. and Chief Business Official Paul Reed, who oversees the district's budget, said in an email.

By only having districts prove they can be solvent for a year, the state can pretend that fewer districts are facing financial crises, Reed said.

"An insolvent school district becomes the state's problem," Reed said. "The state doesn't want any more liabilities, so the Legislature and the governor are telling districts to play make-believe instead."

As of June, more than 140 school districts were found to be in danger of not being able to meet their financial obligations by 2013-14, according to the state Department of Education.

Newport-Mesa certified in June that it would be able to pay its bills for the next three years.

Reed said no chief business official in the state could live without a three-year budget plan, and Newport-Mesa would continue using one to stay solvent.

"It is the suspension of all rational and fiscal belief," Reed said at the meeting, later adding, "It's just totally, totally absurd."

The requirement to keep teachers could ruin some school districts financially if $4 billion in new revenues that the state had counted on to balance its budget don't come through and mid-year cuts to education are made.

Districts, though, shouldn't staff schools in anticipation of mid-year cuts, but based on the state budget, teachers' union representative Nicholas Dix said in an email.

The union supports the law.

"This model will allow for more staff and more instruction for our students," said Dix, the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers' executive director.

Reed said the district would remain solvent if more cuts came down, but it would be mean dipping more into the reserves. There is the possibility that Reed would have to recommend cuts — including layoffs — if needed, he said.

"I will do so even though A.B. 114 also says there shall be no teacher layoffs," he said. "As chief business official I cannot in good conscience do anything else, regardless of the most recent bedtime story from Sacramento."

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