State Superintendent Says Many School Districts Are On A Financial Cliff
Thursday, December 1, 2011
SAN DIEGO San Diego Unified may not be alone in facing insolvency if mid-year state budget cuts go through. California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson thinks bankruptcy is looming for districts across the state.
Kyla Calvert speaks to host Joanne Faryon about education cuts.
Evening Edition airs weekdays at 5 PM and 6:30 PM on KPBS TV.
San Diego Unified hired back about 300 laid off teachers with money it got from optimistic revenue projections used to balance this year’s state budget. Now that revenues are falling short, the district is struggling to figure out how to make up for about $26 million it could lose in February.
Torlakson says similar decisions - and four years of cuts to state funding - could leave a lot of districts facing insolvency.
"They’re running out of the one-time options they used to have like a reserve fund they could tap; personnel have been laid off," he said. "They’re down, in many cases, to bare minimum staffing and classrooms now with 37, 38, 40 students per classroom in college prep chemistry or college prep literature. This is not right.”
When the legislature passed this year's budget they added $4 billion to projections of state revenues. The budget included automatic cuts that will be implemented if revenues don't hit that ambitious target. The automatic cuts have been divided into three tiers, triggered with shortfalls of $1 billion, $2 billion and $4 billion.
A report from the state's legislative analyst predicted revenues will be $3.7 billion short at year's end. A shortfall that large would trigger the second tier of reductions, which includes a $650-million cut to K-12 education.
Cutting instruction time is one option for saving money: School districts are approved to cut seven more school days from an already shortened minmum school year to make up for a funding loss.
“We’re competing against China and Indonesia and India, European countries where they’re in school not 180 days, but 200, 210, 215 days," Torlakson said. "And here we’re talking about going from 180 days, which is already not making sense, going down to 165 days? It’s the wrong direction.”
The superintendent said he wants to see legislators bring back taxes and fees that expired in June, or let voters weigh in on a ballot initiative to bring them back, to generate more revenue for schools.