Cutting What Can’t Be Cut

Proposed State Budget Once Again Has Public Schools Staring Down the Barrel

Santa Barbara School District Superintendent Dr. David Cash
Paul Wellman (file)

To hear the guy in charge tell it, the Santa Barbara Unified School District is facing one of its gloomiest and doom-inducing fiscal forecasts in quite some time.

Calling a special meeting with media representatives late Monday morning explicitly to gush on the topic, Superintendent David Cash was not mincing words about what Governor Jerry Brown’s state budget proposal would mean for local K-12 public schools should it become a reality and should an associated tax initiative fail when it goes to a vote this November. “Look, I think it is inevitable that we are looking at some big changes to what a student experiences on a daily basis [in our district],” said Cash. “There is just no way around that.”

As per his announcement last Friday, Governor Brown is proposing a budget for 2012/13 that would, if the tax initiative fails on Election Day, trigger some $5.4 billion in funding cuts for public education throughout the state. According to Cash, this reduction, which equals cutting roughly $370 in ADA funding per student, would spell some $5.5 million in cuts for Santa Barbara Unified.

The number grows to $6.3 million when you consider the unavoidable $800,000 in district cuts — via slashes to child development and student transportation services — also called for in the budget proposal. Add this to the fact that substantial state budget cuts to public education in the past five years alone have resulted in more than $20 million worth of localized blood letting, and you can see why Cash is so concerned.

Explaining that the proverbial “keeping the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible” is always the goal, Cash opined bluntly on Monday about how far good intentions can go in trying times such as these. “Everyone in this room and our community knows a $6.3 million dollar cut will impact our children each and every day they come to school,” he said.

Of course, the bad news bouncing around district headquarters this week is, at least at this point, worst case scenario speculation. After all, last year at this time the district was looking at a similarly grim budget proposal and the potential of having to make roughly $10 million in cuts. Thanks in large part to a district unification and some changes in the actual state budget before it became a reality, that number ended up working out to roughly $600,000 in cuts for 2011/12. This time around, however, the big time bailout afforded by unification is no longer an option.

Further muddling the situation is the calendar for budget keeping that the district is legally required to adhere to. While the state doesn’t have to have a budget until July (a deadline met only twice in the last 19 years), the school district must have a fully fleshed-out budget adopted by mid-June. This conflict of timetables forces the district, especially in recent years, to plan simultaneously for multiple fiscal situations.

This year, as Cash put it, the school board will have to pursue two separate options: one that finds more than $6 million in cuts (needed if the state budget moves forward as proposed and the higher tax initiative gets voted down) and one that identifies only $800,000 in cuts (the district’s share of school transportation and child development cuts proposed by Brown’s budget independent of the tax vote.)

To that end, at least at this early juncture, Cash explained on Monday that all contingency plans are up for consideration, including shortening the school year and increasing class sizes. “Everything is on the table,” said Cash. “We need to look at every possible thing to figure out how we are going to survive another year with millions of dollars of cuts.” According to the superintendent, meetings with the collective bargaining units for the district’s classified employees and the teachers union will begin almost immediately.


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