School budget outlook darkens

The full impact of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget on the Glendale Unified School District will not be known until June following a possible statewide election to extend current tax rates for an additional five years, officials said. Without them, the district could see $8.3 million in state funding cuts.

"What the governor is proposing is cuts, and really a lot of them," said Eva Lueck, chief financial officer for Glendale Unified. "At least this governor acknowledges that education has been cut more than its fair share."

Proposed statewide budget cuts include $1.7 billion from Medi-Cal, $1 billion from the University of California and California State University systems, and $750 million from the Department of Developmental Services.

Funding in the 2011-12 school year for grades K-12 would remain almost flat, so long as voters in June approve the extension of increased taxes enacted by the state Legislature in 2009.

But it is unclear if the special election will even take place, said Supt. Richard Sheehan. It will require two-thirds approval from both state houses before it even goes to the voters.

"This is an uphill battle, twice," Sheehan said. "We truly will not know anything — and it is awful to say this — until we know what is going on with the special election.

"One, will we even have [an election], and two, if we have one, will it pass? The cloud of uncertainty continues to loom over all districts. I think we need to be as conservative as possible as we move forward."

The state has lost 1.3 million jobs in the recession and unemployment is hovering at 12.4%, the third highest in the nation. In turn, state coffers — which are heavily dependent on personal income taxes — have shrunk, leaving a gaping financial hole.

"We do have a new governor, a new approach, but the same facts," Lueck said. "This governor faces the biggest deficit ever for a governor in U.S. history. All his proposals are opposed by someone."

In the best-case scenario under Brown's budget proposal, Glendale Unified in 2011-12 would see its funding reduced by about $500,000, or $19 per student, Lueck said. But if the proposed tax extension fails, funding could be cut by as much as $330 per student, or $8.3 million.

Both potential reductions would be in addition to the $29 million lost since the 2007-08 school year.

Another variable in the district's long-term budgeting is the Glendale Unified bond measure, which goes before voters in June and could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars for capital improvements.

Spending reductions within Glendale Unified — where personnel expenses account for about 90% of the budget — have largely consisted of staffing cuts, including the elimination of special education, secretarial and maintenance positions, according to the district.

Despite the looming reductions in revenue, the district hopes to avoid additional layoffs and furlough days and plans to maintain the teacher-student ratio of one-to-24 for kindergarten through third grade, officials said.

Tami Carlson, president of the Glendale Teachers Assn., said the extension of the tax rates is critical to Glendale schools.

"GTA would like to work with GUSD in helping get that passed," Carlson said. "That money can be used to maintain smaller class sizes in our district."

Complicating the district's financial matters is its restricted cash flow, Lueck said. Not only is Glendale Unified losing dollars, but 40% of the district's cash will be deferred to the following year.

"I don't know any business out there that could deal with that," she said.

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