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Smaller Cuts To Schools’ State Funding Will Still Sting

— San Diego Unified expects to lose between $7 million and $8 million in state funds come Jan. 1, instead of the roughly $30 million in cuts school leaders were expecting.

Evening Edition

We interview new school board President John Lee Evans on Dec. 14, 2011.

Evening Edition airs weekdays at 5 PM and 6:30 PM on KPBS TV

When Gov. Jerry Brown announced Tuesday that the state’s mid-year spending cuts would be far less dramatic than projected in November, San Diego Unified was spared more than $20 million in lost funding.

But even the reduced cuts are a move in the wrong direction, according to district spokesman Bernie Rhinerson.

“It inflates the deficit for next year," he said. "So in the worst case we were looking at a $95-million deficit for next year and now we’re looking at something in the range of about $73 million.”

Without a state funding boost for 2012-13 or employee contract concessions, city schools will still have to rely on hundreds of layoffs to close the looming shortfall.

Statewide K-12 funding will be reduced by about $80 million in January. Separate funding for school transportation will take a $248 million cut.

That means small school districts in places like Ramona and Julian could feel a bigger impact.

“Because many of those rural areas have children who are living far away from school, they don’t have sidewalks and many of those students get transported by buses every day," Randy Ward, San Diego County's superintendent of education, said on KPBS Evening Edition. "So that is the disproportionate burden the state has laid on very small school districts.”

Transportation money is distributed based on how much it costs to run a district’s bus fleet. In rural districts, where students travel long distances, the cost per child can be high.

Julian Union Elementary School District Superintendent Kevin Ogden said his district will lose about $155 per child in transportation funding, compared with the $11 or $12 per student cut all districts will see from regular revenue next month.

“This really, in my opinion, is a direct hit on children living in poverty," he said. "My district is 620 square miles, 60 percent free and reduced lunch, so the traditional yellow school bus is the lifeline to educational opportunity.”

Cutting buses is just not an option, Ogden said, so the district will have to look at reductions that will likely reach into classrooms.

California’s public universities will lose $200 million in January. That will translate into a $7.8-million loss for San Diego State, which budgeted for the cuts in its current budget and so will not have to make any further reductions this year. The University of California will handle the loss by borrowing from reserve funds at the system level to avoid cuts to any campus budgets.

Community college students will see a $10 per unit fee increase next fall. That will bring the cost per unit to $46, up from $26 just two years ago.

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