Educators to Brown: FlexibilityBrown: Be sitting down when you read budget
Gov.-elect Jerry Brown warned educators at a forum at UCLA on Tuesday that they, along with everyone else, should brace for bad news (“Please sit down if you’re reading the stories on the budget on Jan. 10”) when he releases next year’s budget. Anticipating more cuts, school board members and superintendents asked in return for more flexibility to spend money how they see fit and more ability to raise money locally. A few questioners pleaded for the governor to include new taxes (or at least an extension of $8 billion worth set to expire next year) in the mix of solutions.
The two-hour session was the second stop in a week on Brown’s Sober Reality Tour – an effort to get Californians to understand the magnitude of the $28 billion deficit projected for the next 18 months. Since the total has already incorporated a $2 billion drop in Proposition 98 funding for next year (corresponding to a drop in projected state revenue), there is virtually no chance public schools won’t face severe cuts.
A comment from the audience that K-12 schools and community colleges comprise 40 percent of the budget yet have taken 50 percent of the cuts – a familiar refrain in school circles – drew little sympathy from Brown. Some cuts are easier than others, he said. Courts have ordered hundreds of millions of dollars of additional spending on prison health care, and federal health and welfare mandates add to costs, he said. “We have a grumpy set of claimants. It’s hard to compare apples and oranges and school books,” he said.
The $28 billion deficit includes a $6 billion shortfall for the current year. Brown’s incoming Finance Director, Ana Matosantos, implied that there would be no midyear education cuts. That’s because Brown said he wants the Legislature to pass next year’s budget, incorporating this year’s deficit, within 60 days – by mid-March. That could allow Brown to ask voters to consider a tax package before the new fiscal year begins July 1. But he gave no indication that would be his thinking.
Then at least give local districts more flexibility “to create a survival plan,” Phil Quon, superintendent of Cupertino Union School District, asked Brown. Many categorical programs, limiting spending to a purpose dictated by the Legislature, remain restricted.
Last year, the Legislature took the strings off $4.5 billion in categorical programs, including adult education and teacher training money, through 2012-13. But restrictions remain on $7.5 billion more, including class-size reduction grants, career technical partnership academies, school transportation, and some programs targeted at English learners and low-income students whom legislators would want to continue to see served.
Saying the district is “at the cliff,” Bernie Rhinerson, the chief district relations officer at the San Diego Unified School District, called for lowering the threshold for passing a parcel tax from a two-thirds majority to 55 percent. In the last election, a district parcel tax drew 51 percent approval, within striking distance, he said.
For years, Democratic Sen. Joe Simitian has proposed putting the issue on the ballot, but he has been unable to move his bill for lack of a single Republican vote in the Senate.
Joel Shapiro, superintendent in South Pasadena, said he favored a broad state tax and the extension of temporary taxes to help all districts instead of relying on localized parcel taxes. “There can be no more cuts without devastating education,” he said.
Jo Loss, president of the state PTA, offered the support of the organization’s one million members if Brown took a “balanced approach to the budget.”
The biggest challenge, Brown said, is the perception that the deficit can be erased by eliminating waste in state government. Cutting every state employee would save only $9 billion. Satisfying a public that wants more services but is unwilling to pay more for them is asking a governor to “square the circle.”
But Brown also said there is some excess and duplication in state government. To set an example, Brown has said he would cut the governor’s office budget by 20 percent. On Tuesday, he vowed to up that to 25 percent.