Friday, February 20, 2009
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell was in San Diego today demanding lawmakers change the way state government works. KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.
(Photo: State Schools Superintendent Jack O'Connel (left) and San Diego Unified school trustee Sheila Jackson speak at a news conference in Mira Mesa. Ana Tintocalis/KPBS)
Every year school districts wait weeks and months on edge for a state spending plan so they can make their own budget cuts. But the uncertainty that results when the state budget is late leads to anxiety over possible layoff notices, school closures and program cuts.
O'Connell says its time lawmakers throw-out the two-thirds vote needed to pass a budget and simply use a majority vote. And he says lawmakers shouldn't get paid if the budget is late.
I suggest we marry both (ideas). We make a budget vote a simple majority vote. And then, simultaneously, if the budget is not passed on time, you hold the majority accountable by making sure they don't receive their payment.
O'Connell says mid-year budget cuts translates into a loss of roughly eight billion dollars for public schools. He says to expect bigger class sizes, longer bus rides and fewer textbooks.
The new spending plan also gives school districts the flexibility to spend existing earmarked education dollars on other things to make ends meet. But O’Connell says that threatens efforts to close the academic achievement gap in California.
That’s because a large portion of the state's education funding is tied to programs designed to raise the test scores of black and Latino students across the state.
O'Connell worries those important achievement gap initiatives will fall by the waist-side.
Drop out programs for example, intervention programs for school safety, programs to help students learn the English language. The future of these programs are now exclusively in the hands of school districts with much less money, much less revenue.
O'Connell says programs to help students pass the state's high school exit exam are also in jeopardy.
In San Diego Unified -- the state’s second largest school district -- California's mid-year spending plan translates into a $33 million loss in state education funding.
San Diego Unified school officials say the final approval of state budget was both good and bad news. Good because the district can now focus all its energy on a game plan for next year. Bad because the district will have go through with the cuts pinpointed for the rest of this school year.
District officials say the silver-lining is that they correctly estimated losing about 33 million dollars in state education funding -- and planned accordingly.
Spokesman Jack Brandais says those cuts will not translate into layoffs, work furloughs or school closures.
It is a big relief to our staff and our teachers, our parents and our students. This is something that has been hanging over everyone's heads for several months now. So there is a sense of relief.
Brandais says the biggest cuts come from the central office. For example, purchases of big-ticket items such a school buses and textbooks will be delayed. The cuts also rely on schools and administrators drastically scaling back on their spending, as well as on the district tapping into its reserves.
Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.