Brown signs ed trailer billSays districts should act responsibly
Gov. Jerry Brown last night signed an education trailer bill that critics say will limit school districts’ ability to accomplish what Brown said they should do: “take all reasonable steps to balance their budgets and maintain a positive cash flow.”
Brown signed AB 114, a 100-page trailer bill, despite a call by the California School Boards Association Thursday to repeal two sections of the bill that “intrude on the ability of school boards to manage their own resources.” Both would limit the ability of school boards to act now to ward off the possibility of midyear budget cuts that the Legislature acknowledged would be necessary if revenues are more than $2 billion short. One provision will prevent districts from using July and August to make additional layoffs; the other requires districts to maintain programs and staffing levels “commensurate with” last year’s levels.
“The state should not be substituting its judgment for that of those who live in the communities affected, have fiduciary responsibility for the districts, and are held accountable for student outcomes,” CSBA President Martha Fluor said in a statement.
School Services of California Inc., consultants that advise many districts on budget issues, asked Brown to veto a third section, which will pare back for one year the power of county offices of education to closely monitor districts’ financial health by not requiring the submission of multi-year budget projections. In his letter to Brown, School Services CEO Ron Bennett called this provision “a road to disaster, especially if the state turns around and cuts funding for schools” under a series of “triggers” outlined in the state budget. In the worst-case scenario, AB 114 authorizes districts to lop off seven days in the school year between February and the end of school.
Brown did not explicitly address AB 114 criticisms, but in a message accompanying the signing, he wrote, “In fashioning their local budgets, school boards may nevertheless need to make reductions due to cost increases, loss of federal funds, enrollment declines or other factors. AB 114 does not interfere with local school board decisions.” The implication is that those districts that built in a reserve after Brown’s May budget revision would not have to restore programs that were cut if they can justify their decision based on their own circumstances and could make further cuts now – just not certificated teachers.
In addition, although county superintendents cannot require three-year budget projections, AB 114 does not prevent school districts from doing them and using those forecasts to budget cautiously.
In an email, Bennett called Brown’s response “very positive,” adding that School Services will be using the message “to argue that school boards have a lot more control than the unions think they have.”
The cuts mandated by the Legislature will be phased in based on revenues. If the state receives $2 billion or more of the $4 billion in question, K-12 will be spared any cuts. However, if less than $2 billion comes in, schools will lose school bus funds and would have to negotiate furlough days with their unions – as many as seven if none of the $4 billion arrives.
However, Sue Burr, newly appointed executive director of the State Board of Education, reaffirmed the Brown administration’s view that districts should be reasonably confident that K-12 schools will be protected. School boards may want to open negotiations now with unions to plan for the possibility of midyear cuts, but they should not overreact to fears of shortfalls. Since state revenue is already $1.3 billion above the May revision estimates, less than $1 billion more is needed to protect K-12.
Brown ended his message with the reminder: “Let us not forget that schools would have enjoyed billions more in state funding if Republicans in the Legislature had allowed the people of California to vote on tax extensions.”
Today those taxes – on personal income, sales of goods, and motor vehicles – end. Coincidental or not, if there is a surge in state revenues in coming months, you can bet that Republican supply siders will be crowing that Democrats can thank them for saving the schools.