Schools face a shifting target

DOWNTOWN — The Glendale Unified School District Board of Education adopted a new budget Tuesday, but officials said the move will not solve the district’s problems as they anticipate the state’s continuing budget crisis to force millions in funding reductions.

Trustees have already taken steps to close an anticipated $25.4-million hole that would otherwise have been created by midyear cuts to education approved by lawmakers in February.

But additional cuts may be on the way, with administrators bracing for the possibility of up to $25.1 million in further losses if legislators approve Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed reductions to education funding, administrators said.

“That’s part of the frustration as we’re trying to get a handle on, ‘What’s our target?’” Chief Business and Financial Officer Eva Rae Lueck said, adding that the state’s ongoing budget discussions have created confusion about what educators should plan for while preparing their budgets.

“That target has shifted dramatically, and it’s not finished; it is not done yet,” Lueck said.

State lawmakers crafted a plan in February to make up for a projected $42-billion deficit caused by California’s financial crisis, a result of diminished tax revenues and housing prices. Since then, the deficit has been on track to grow to a projected $24 billion by next year.

The February plan included a net cut of $2 billion from education, but Schwarzenegger’s proposal for solving the new projected deficit would slash $6.3 billion from schools over the next two years, among cuts to other state services.

If those reductions are approved, the district would have to make difficult cost-cutting decisions, but it is not clear how deep the cuts would be or when they would be enacted, Lueck said.

If legislators adopt Schwarzenegger’s proposals, the district would receive only 82 cents for every dollar it currently expects to get, which, combined with the midyear cuts, would shrink the district’s budget by $14.4 million from what it was in 2007-08, she said.

“When 92% of your budget is salaries and benefits, and when your cut is basically 18%, you’re looking at significant changes that we’re going to have to do in our budget and the way we do business,” she said.

Further district reductions may have more direct effects on classrooms than the largely peripheral maneuvers trustees have approved so far, officials said.

Administrators have planned to spend just over half of the total $18.2 million in federal stimulus funds allocated to Glendale Unified so far, Lueck said.

The other funds have not been allocated, but even so, the stimulus money is “one-time dollars” and will not help with the district’s “structural deficit” that will require administrators to rework the way they spend money, or face annual shortfalls, she said.

The board has approved an increase in size for ninth-grade English and math classes that were previously maintained at a student-to-teacher ratio of 20 to 1. Ninth-grade English classes will jump to 25.5 to 1, while math classes will jump to the district’s average of about 30 to 1, except for algebra classes, which will remain at their current 20-to-1 levels.

Ninth-grade English classes will gradually grow as teachers vacate positions that would not be refilled, said Assistant Supt. of Educational Services Dick Sheehan.

Trustees have also approved decreased spending for building maintenance, the consolidation of some administrative positions, the elimination of some teacher support and administrator positions and the elimination of an English training program for adults.

The district has also reduced some employee work days to match the school year and absorbed leftover funds from grants meant to go toward physical education, art and music, and supplemental student counseling, among other programs.

But future cuts could force officials to ratchet up class sizes for kindergarten through third grade, modify staffing ratios and eliminate bus service for Clark Magnet High School, and possibly put a cap on the district’s spending on health insurance costs, Lueck said.

The district’s efforts to avoid going broke will exhaust its $21.3-million reserve fund and may still leave it with a deficit in 2012 unless it makes additional cuts before then, Lueck said.

That reserve fund has been key in helping trustees avoid making teacher layoffs during the recent financial crisis, board Vice President Greg Krikorian said.

“We’re sideways, but we would be upside down if we didn’t have the reserves,” he said.


 ZAIN SHAUK covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at zain.shauk@latimes.com.

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