Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget is leaving school districts throughout the state reeling, including Turlock Unified School District.
District officials and trustees agree that they must plan for the worst-case scenario — which is essentially a budget hole where the district will lose $4.8 million dollars next school year (2012-13) from an already lean budget.
The worst case scenario all depends on Brown’s budget. The majority of his budget comes from the hope voters will approve $6.9 billion in new revenue from a tax increase. To make up that that money the Governor is proposing a one to two percent income tax increase for those making from $250,000 a year to $1 million. Also included is a half-cent sales and use tax increase.
His budget can only be placed on the November 2012 ballot in two ways — a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a ballot initiative that requires 807,615 signatures by June 28 for a constitutional amendment. Ballot measures must be approved by more than 50 percent of voters.
Should this scenario pan out then TUSD will have “only” a slight decrease in its budget.
Should the tax initiative not pass or even reach voters then TUSD will face tough choices — likely including cutting teachers’ salaries or lay-offs and reduction or elimination of programs.
A major problem the TUSD Board of Trustees will almost certainly face is letting teachers know if they must make cuts. According to law, pink slips must be handed out by a March 15 deadline for the next school year. The district is also mandated by the state to create a balanced budget projected for three years into the future.
If the district fails to make cuts the ramifications could be devastating.
“It is safe to say that if we take the $4.8 million hit and we did nothing, just left things the way they are now, we would be in the red within the next three years, in other words we would run out of money,” said Assistant Superintendent of Financial Services Lori Decker.
In either scenario TUSD will lose all of its transportation funding next school year, something it cannot afford to lose. Even special education transportation will be unfunded, yet still mandated. Overall, about 15 percent of TUSD students are bused to school each day. District officials fear those cuts will lead to a loss in average daily attendance funding, which is how districts are paid.
In both “bad” and “not-so-bad” scenarios cuts will undoubtedly have to be made to fill the funding gap from the Governor’s proposed budget.
The district is also losing another $2 million in federal stimulus dollars for education jobs, which helped keep more teachers on the district payroll.
The district and the Turlock Teachers Association are in preliminary talks which could possibly include teacher salary reductions or lay-offs.
“Right now we are in very preliminary negotiations and as soon as we can report anything out we will,” said TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Services Heidi Lawler.
“Those decisions will probably be made up to March 15. Right now we don’t have enough information from the entire budget process to make any decisions,” said Trustee Frank Lima. “We will have to budget with the funds we have and not the ones we hope to have. We are put into a very difficult situation, can’t build a budget on speculation.”
Lima indicated that the district doesn’t want to layoff any teachers, but might be forced to.
“Their entire lives will be put on hold, it is a terrible thing to hand out notices, there is just absolute uncertainty with this budget,” he said.
In the past several years, as other districts in Merced and Stanislaus counties have had to make severe cuts, TUSD has remained relatively unscathed.
There have never been any teacher layoffs and class sizes have remained at 21 for grades K-3. There has also never been a freeze in step or column increases for teachers, only one furlough day, and the district has not reduced the number of school days, said Lima. Arts, athletics and music programs have also been unharmed.
“This year will present the biggest challenges for us; everything comes into play this year. If the budget stays the same with the May revision then we are looking at huge reductions,” added Lima.
About 90 percent of the TUSD unrestricted budget goes to salary and benefits.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.