Budget plans get tepid response

GLENDALE — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revised budget proposal for the 2008-09 fiscal year received a lukewarm response from Glendale Unified School District staff and school board members during Tuesday night’s board of education meeting.

While board members and school district staff members acknowledged that the governor’s revised budget, proposed last week, was slightly better for schools than the one proposed in January, Glendale Unified will still be hit hard if this revised budget is passed, board members and school district staff said.

“We’re talking about major dollars,” board member Chuck Sambar said of the cuts the district would endure under the revised budget.

In January, Schwarzenegger proposed a 2008-09 budget that would have cut public education funding next year by more than $4 billion statewide and that would have necessitated suspending Proposition 98, a 1988 ballot measure that set a minimum amount of state funding for education. But in the revision released on May 14, the governor suggested giving kindergarten through 12th-grade schools and community colleges the money they are due under Proposition 98 next year.

“There’s no call for the suspension of [Proposition] 98,” said Eva Rae Lueck, the district’s chief business and financial officer.

Fully funding Proposition 98 will bring in $1 billion more to schools across the state than was suggested in January. But that adjustment is coupled with other cuts and lack of increases in other pots of education funding from the state, Lueck said.

The governor’s new budget proposes giving schools no across-the-board-cost of living adjustment dollars to cover cost increases. And the governor has proposed cutting funding to categorical programs like the Class Size Reduction program by 6.5%.

A 6.5% cut to special education funding that was proposed in the governor’s first budget has been stricken from this budget, which is good news, Lueck said. But, the program is still not slated to receive any cost of living increase under the governor’s new budget.

The governor has also proposed cutting funding for supplemental hourly programs — like the school district’s summer school program — by 6.5%.

After hearing about the specifics of the proposed state cuts, Sambar estimated that the school district would need to cut $7 million or $8 million from its budget to cover regular employee salary schedule increases with the depleted funding from the state.

“So things haven’t really improved have they?” Sambar said.

Lueck agreed that this budget did not represent a significant improvement for schools.

Board member Nayiri Nahabedian asked about the kind of impact this revised budget would have on the school district over several years. And Lueck confirmed Nahabedian’s initial assessment that the governor’s revised budget would put the school district in a better financial position in 2010-11 than the governor’s previous budget did, because this new budget does not propose actual cuts to the district’s “revenue limit” funding — the largest pot of money districts get from the state.

Board Vice President Mary Boger cautioned that the budget that will be passed in Sacramento in a few months may not look at all like the governor’s revised budget because the governor’s budget has been met with opposition from both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.

Because there was so much uncertainty about what the state’s budget might look like, the school board would do well to consider the worst when it adopts the Glendale Unified budget in June, Boger said.

“I frankly believe it should be a worst-case scenario budget,” she said.

The school board will review the district’s draft budget at its first meeting in June, and is scheduled to adopt a budget at its second meeting in June.

That budget will have to be prepared without the benefit of knowing how exactly the state plans to fund education next year, Lueck said.

“It is truly a preliminary budget,” she said.

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