State Sen. Carol Liu warns of education funding cuts, budget quagmire

State Sen. Carol Liu could do little to assuage fears about funding cuts during a recent address to local education officials, describing them as “heartbreaking.”

She also warned of competing November ballot tax initiatives that could end up doing more harm to public school funding.

The California Legislature has adopted budgets during the last three years that have resulted in $26 billion in cuts to public services, Liu said during the Glendale Unified school board meeting Tuesday. And an estimated $10- to $13-billion budget deficit still looms.

“To vote for cuts in education and human services has been a very trying experience,” Liu said. “But we felt that we really had to attack that budget situation head-on, and the deficit head-on.”

Lawmakers, she added, need to focus on long-term structural solutions that will buffer the state for years to come.

“Our reliance on personal tax and capital gains has left us victims of broad economic swings and with no reserves to see us through difficult times,” Liu said.

Liu, chairwoman of the budget subcommittee on education, said that she and her colleagues will meet next month to study the impacts of Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal on the state’s K-12 schools and community college districts.

Education-specific facets of Brown’s budget include restoring funding for home-to-school student transportation, while allowing that money to be used for any education purpose. The plan also suspends 10 programs in addition to 40 that have already been suspended, Liu said.

But numerous variables remain, most notably whether Brown’s ballot initiative — which assumed $6.9 billion in additional revenue — will make it past voters come November, Liu said.

“I know this budget situation is very difficult for schools,” Liu said. “You don’t know whether to base [budgets] on current expenses, projected expenses — where do we fall?”

Complicating matters is the emergence of other tax measures — at least one of which has been endorsed by the California State PTA — that could muddle Brown’s efforts to usher through the proposed tax hikes.

The state senator’s comments came on the same day La Cañada and Glendale school district officials reviewed their second interim financial reports.

Assuming a reduction of $455 in funding per student — a mix in average daily attendance and transportation dollars — during the 2012-13 academic year, La Cañada Unified is staring at $1.8-million in red ink, said Steve Hodgson, a budget consultant with the district. It is a significant sum for a district with an operating budget of about $34 million, Hodgson added.

In Glendale Unified, the 2012-13 average daily attendance funding loss is projected to total roughly $9.2 million, officials said. If voters do not pass a tax measure in November, the district will have to consider creating an early retirement incentive for teachers and increasing student-to-teacher ratios to 30-to-1.

“If it passes, we will only be cut a little,” said Eva Lueck, Glendale Unified’s chief business and financial officer. “But if it doesn’t pass, we will get cut a lot.”

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