Glendale Unified frets over future of tax measure, voter confusion

Even as they approved a $167.7-million budget for the 2012-13 school year, Glendale Unified officials this week fretted over the level of local voter support for a state tax initiative that could dramatically reshape the district’s balance sheets for years to come.

In a best-case scenario, Glendale Unified will be deficit-spending to the tune of $19.5 million next year, absorbing the bleeding through a series of cost-cutting measures, reserve draw-downs and fund transfers, said Eva Lueck, chief business and financial officer for the district.

“We really need to look at adjusting our structural deficit and to reduce our ongoing expenditures,” Lueck said during the school board meeting Tuesday. “We are looking at the year 2012-13 to develop our plan as to how we are going to restructure our district’s expenditures so that we really are living within our means as we go forward.”

At the heart of the budget wrangling at Glendale Unified, and at K-12 and community college districts up and down the state, is Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, which goes before voters in November and is projected to generate $6 billion if it is approved.

Without it, local schools will lose an additional $11.3 million, potentially for several consecutive years, Lueck said.

District officials last week hosted three community forums that were designed to share budget projections with the public while also drumming up support for the November ballot initiative.

Some school board members expressed concern about trying to mobilize Glendale voters in support of the tax initiative one year after asking for support for Measure S, a $270-million school bond passed in April 2011.

While the two are unrelated — the initiative would increase statewide tax revenues while Measure S generates local dollars for restricted use in Glendale schools — some community members unfamiliar with the nuances of public education funding are linking the two, school board members said.

District Supt. Dick Sheehan noted that additional community meetings focused on educating and motivating voters are planned for the fall.

“It is very critical at this time,” Sheehan said.

Meanwhile, Glendale Unified has been locked in a back-and-forth with its teachers union over five teacher furlough days scheduled for the 2012-13 school year. If used, they would save Glendale Unified $2.3 million, representing a 2.5% pay cut for teachers.

Talks on deferring those furlough days broke down earlier this month, with Glendale Teachers Assn. leaders saying they would agree only if Glendale Unified made concessions on forthcoming negotiations on employee health care coverage. The parties are scheduled to return to the bargaining table later this month.

District officials have made it clear they intend to push for cost reductions regardless of the outcome of the November election.

“Even if the taxes pass, which we are certainly hopeful for, we still have a structural deficit,” school board President Christine Walters said. “We still are spending more than revenue being provided. We will still be making cuts, regardless if the taxes pass."

Twitter: @megankoneil

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