Levels of pain if revenues failLawmakers want furloughs not more layoffs
Community college students, already facing a 38 percent increase in course fees, will be among the first to pay the price if state revenues come up short next year. Next will be rural and urban students, who’ll lose their bus rides to school. Then, finally, teachers and staff at K-12 schools, who may be docked as much as 3.5 percent in pay though additional furlough days.
The state budget that Democrats in the Legislature passed late Tuesday by majority vote – with no Republican support and no votes to spare in the Senate – layers a series of budget cuts if the $4 billion in extra revenue that Democrats built into the budget fails to materialize. Many economists believe it won’t.
Optimists – if any are left – can take comfort in knowing that K-12 schools will be spared from any additional cuts if at least $2 billion of the $4 billion comes through. But if there is less than $2 billion, K-12 schools will bear the brunt of the cuts. And they could be as much as $1.9 billion, mostly in end-of-the-year furlough days, if the shortfall reaches as much as $4 billion. The state will save between $200 million and $225 million for every fewer day that schools are open.
The prospect of cutting the school year another seven to 10 days from the already short 175-day calendar once would have been dismissed as preposterous in a state worried about losing its economic edge in a competitive world. But those who attended education briefings on Tuesday report that the language of the budget or trailer bills to come will make clear that legislators prefer furloughs to any more layoffs.
Adopting a furlough day until now has been subject to union and district negotiations – a process that could stretch out for months if teachers and classified workers oppose the idea. One of many unanswered questions, says Bob Blattner of Blattner & Associates, an education consulting firm based in Sacramento, is whether the Legislature planned to give school trustees the power to unilaterally impose a furlough day.
$2.5 billion cuts in tiers
The Legislature laid out $2.5 billion worth of budget cuts if revenues fail by next January. Here are the details:
- If the state takes in over $3 billion of the $4 billion, there would be no cuts.
- If the state takes in between $2 billion and $3 billion, there would be $600 million in cuts, known as Tier 1. In the area of education, the University of California and California State University systems would be docked $100 million each in addition to the $650 million cut already in the budget, equal to one-fourth of state support, in the case of CSU. Higher tuitions would be a near certainty.
Community college students have already seen fees rise from $26 to $36 per credit. A $30 million Tier 1 cut to the system would lead to another $10 per credit increase, to $46, a 77 percent jump in 18 months.
And that’s not all.
- If revenues were less than $2 billion, as much as $1.9 billion in Tier 2 cuts would be imposed. Included would be an additional $72 million cut to community colleges, resulting in a loss of 35,000 students, according Erik Skinner, vice chancellor of this system. And this would be on top of $400 million cut imposed earlier in Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget, which would cause 130,000 students to be turned away. “We will prioritize, but there is no getting around that California has taken steps backward to training future workplace,” Skinner said.
Another Tier 2 cut would be $248 million from school bus transportation – half of the account. Stephen Rhoads, the principal consultant for Strategic Education Services in Sacramento, said the word around the Capitol was this was a cut aimed at Republicans, many of whom represent rural areas. But urban districts also receive the money. “By and large, the cut would hurt poor children, and that’s unfortunate,” he said.
Finally, there would be the $1.5 billion cut in the school year, equaling between seven and 10 days, depending on the size of the missing revenue. The school year, for school districts left with no alternative, could be as few as 168 days, compared with 180 days two years ago.