Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

With Grim Projections In Revised State Budget, Local School Officials Call For Federal Help

Cover image for podcast episode

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised budget projects nearly $19 billion in cuts to education funding. San Diego Unified leaders say their plan for reopening hinges on more federal stimulus money.

Speaker 1: 00:01 California governor Gavin Newsome is addressing a $54 billion state budget deficit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In unveiling his updated budget proposal last week, he said schools could face $19 billion in education cuts over the next two years. His budget also calls for a 10% reduction to the local control funding formula, which raises worrying questions about whether schools will be able to open up again safely. Joining us is Paul Gotham, who is San Diego County superintendent of schools. Paul, thanks for being with us.

Speaker 2: 00:33 Thank you. My pleasure.

Speaker 1: 00:34 So now this is worrying use for the average parent for a start. Who has kids who've been trying to learn from home? How could these proposed cuts affects whether and how schools open up again?

Speaker 2: 00:45 Well, it's a, it's troubling news and just to put it into context, this is roughly a little less than a half a billion dollars to San Diego County. The proposed cuts that are on the table, uh, are well over $400 million and at a time where we're asked to actually invest more, uh, for, uh, the proper PPEs modified schedules. And smaller class sizes based on the current health orders. Um, it does undermine our ability to do this right, do it safely. So we are in constant communication with our legislature to, uh, do what we can between now and budget adoption to get some relief from this.

Speaker 1: 01:31 Now you, you mentioned that this may revise, depends on, uh, governor Newsome's hope that there will be more money coming from the federal government. He's already relying on the federal cares act, uh, relief package to help close the budget gap. But isn't there a risk that the Republican controlled Senate is unlikely to approve the heroes act, which would give Newsome the money he needs to even meet the budget that he's proposing right now?

Speaker 2: 01:55 Yeah, in, in school finance. We don't budget money. That isn't, it isn't certain. We just don't. And, um, so I know that, uh, through his, his comments, a lot of this was deferred to the feds and rightfully so. Um, we did see, uh, the, the heroes that get passed in the house as you mentioned, and, and immediately a public statement following saying, uh, from the Senate that it didn't have a chance. Obviously there's going to be a lot of negotiation that goes on between now and the near future. And, um, so while those funds would be welcome needed, they are not, uh, they're not in place right now. We can't budget for that until we know that they're absolutely real.

Speaker 1: 02:33 So should teachers be preparing for furloughs and pay cuts like they did experience during the great recession?

Speaker 2: 02:41 Well, I think it's safe to say that there are still too many question marks and uncertainties into this budget cycle as it stands now, remember, this is, uh, the may revise, uh, the legislature is currently at work 24, seven and budget talks with the department of finance and our state's, I know that everybody is doing the best that they can. And, um, you know, for our, from our perspective, um, you know, that's the last thing that we want to talk about particularly for, uh, you know, people who had entered this profession as young teachers, we were not having those discussions yet because we don't know what those real numbers are going to look like. There's still too many uncertainties. Uh, the governor did us, uh, you know, a lot of favors by taking some of the general fund and paying down some of the pension liabilities. Uh, there are a number of moving parts to this that we don't know how they're all going to shake down. Um, so I think it's a bit premature to, to make that statement because I think from our perspective, uh, lamps are very difficult to overcome. I know we lost 30 to 40,000 teachers and classified staff during the 2008 recession. Um, our, our school budgets were already tight to begin with. And again, this is an unprecedented crisis and we're rolling up our sleeves and doing the best we can to avoid that.

Speaker 1: 03:57 And the County, you know, you uh, oversee, there's like 40 more than 40 school districts in San Diego County, so you have a sense of their financial health currently. Do you have any more serious concerns for any particular districts in San Diego County?

Speaker 2: 04:11 You know, it, it ranges across the board. There are a couple of districts that have been well documented that have been struggling with finances. I just want to, you know, put, put something into perspective. In, in the, in the governor's uh, January proposal there was an increase tag of 2.31% for our schools. Obviously that's no longer a consideration, uh, based on, on the climate that we're living in right now. But we had anticipated if that, if that 2.31 increase was not going to come to fruition, that 21 of our 42 school districts would have to initiate some sort of layoff furlough or reduction in salary that half of our districts just based on that 2.29%. This is with all of our districts with the exception one meeting their financial obligations and minimum reserve limits. So this is a, uh, uh, a historic proposed cut, uh, that we just haven't seen before. And again, uh, we're doing everything we can. I know that our legislation or governor governor's offices as well to see what we can do to mitigate this.

Speaker 1: 05:20 And for parents who are wondering about the uncertainty of the future, other, any certainties you can offer in terms of when the schools will decide how they're going to reopen?

Speaker 2: 05:30 Yeah, so great question. You know, as a, as a father of, of two children, I don't think there's anyone who wants to go back more than my, than my wife, but I, I would tell you this, that we are doing this. Uh, all of our guidance is done in concurrence with the department of public health. Um, we want to make sure that we are, uh, doing everything, uh, that accommodates the health orders, the orders that come out from the governor's office. And we will open our doors. Way to save to do so we're planning on, uh, is, you know, when those orders are lifted, when we have, uh, some of those restrictions lifted and the number of tests and contact tracing, all those elements that need to be in place, um, to ensure that our students and our staff are safe at our schools is when we will open our doors.

Speaker 2: 06:22 And so, uh, we join, we're, we're present at the emergency operation center every single day, uh, engaged in dialogue with that. I know our County health officials are in constant contact with state, uh, agencies. So as soon as we meet those criteria, we will begin to look at, uh, soft openings, uh, and we will inform our community exactly what our plans are moving forward. Uh, and it will be a little bit different based on the districts obviously are rural districts and small districts, uh, differ in it needs and scope than some of our big urbans. And so it may not look exactly the same in every district, but the one thing I can't tell you with a hundred percent certainty, it's all gonna be based on the guidance and agreement from state and, uh, County health orders. Well, Paul, thank you very much. We'll stay tuned. Thank you. I've been speaking with Paul Garfield, who is the San Diego County superintendent of schools.

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.