DOWNTOWN — Members of the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education called on teachers union leaders Tuesday to be more active in helping to address sweeping state budget cuts.
The pleas came as state lawmakers are debating whether to take the unprecedented step of trimming California’s constitutional guarantee for schools and community colleges, which typically amounts to about 40% of the general fund, in an effort to help close a budget shortfall that now stands at $26 billion.
State educators have argued that the move could throw schools backward after years of progress.
The move could also drop per-student fund allocations below their levels in 2004, another possible regression of historic proportions, Chief Business and Financial Officer Eva Rae Lueck said.
Lueck did not offer an updated estimate of possible cuts because proposals in Sacramento have continued to evolve, but prior worst-case projections show that Glendale Unified could face a $14-million deficit in two years, growing to more than $50 million in three years.
Administrators may try to shift some of the district’s federal stimulus dollars to pay for employee salaries for a short-term fix, but that step might not be possible, Lueck said.
The funding gap could force the district to eventually increase class sizes, significantly cut services and possibly lay off employees, depending on the severity of state reductions.
School board members argued that they will be unable to make the significant changes that may be necessary without cooperation from leaders of the Glendale Teachers Assn.
District and union bargaining teams have so far failed to reach a new contract agreement after more than nine months of talks, with administrators asking teachers for the ability to renegotiate salary and health insurance provisions on an annual basis because of potential year-to-year budget uncertainties.
Union leaders have refused, with President Tami Carlson arguing that the district should “spend down” its $21.3-million reserve before insisting on any changes that might affect classrooms.
Her team has suggested that the district accept a continuation of the union’s contract, which expired last month, for up to two years. At that point, the district’s financial difficulties will be more clear, and union leaders will have a more concrete idea of what concessions teachers should make, rather than relying on projections based on state decisions that have yet to be made, Carlson said in a recent interview.
School board members on Tuesday took issue with spending dwindling reserves to jump-start negotiations.
“I think that’s a little too late to start talking,” board President Mary Boger said. “I think we need to be talking more carefully right now. I wish that I personally could feel that the GTA leadership has an understanding and an appreciation for how bad the situation is.”
Vice President Greg Krikorian, who suggested that the district should modify employee health insurance expenses as one possible source of major savings, called Carlson’s statements “just as scary as what’s happening in Sacramento.”
He called on administrators, teachers and other school employees to work together and make changes that he argued would prevent harmful impacts to classrooms.
“We are not only walking through a minefield, we are approaching a river with rapids, and there is no way that we can pass alone,” he said.
ZAIN SHAUK covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at email@example.com.