With tax extension talks off, area educators worried
Canan Tasci, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/02/2011 07:06:34 AM PDT

Gov. Jerry Brown’s promise not to cut school budgets will soon be broken.

The governor’s budget proposal earlier this year to close a $25 billion budget gap without cutting funding to K-12 schools was contingent upon voters approving a five-year extension of temporary taxes in a special election in June.

But now that Brown’s talks with Republicans to put those tax extensions on the June ballot have ended, the anxiety level among local educators is off the charts.

Inland Valley district officials were not only hopeful their multiple resolutions supporting the tax extension were being recognized, but that their cries about being cut to the bare bones were finally being heard.

That’s not the case and they’re now faced with cutting $96 million from their budgets.

“As we’ve seen over the last several years, there is the inability of our state elected officials to come together and have thoughtful collaborative conversations around the budget issues,” said Gary Rapkin, superintendent of San Dimas-based Bonita Unified School District.

“They have shown an absolute inability to step up and to lead in the manner that we expect them to lead and that begins with having conversations that serve the communities well, and we haven’t had that for a number of years.”

Leaning on caution, districts last month put together two spending scenarios as they created their 2011-12 school budget: one assumed voters would extend the tax increases, while the worse-case scenario assumed the tax measures would fail or never come to a vote.

While some still hope for a last-minute political deal, Brown made it clear last week that he has given up on persuading any GOP lawmakers to change their minds about supporting a tax vote.

As a result, Inland Valley school officials are looking to enact even deeper cutbacks.

“I would describe this budget year more than any other as working through the stages of grief,” said Gary Rutherford, superintendent of Upland Unified School District.

“We’ve gone from denial, to anger, bargaining and acceptance, and I think we’re all at acceptance. These are the cards we’re dealt, and the question is how we’re going to deal with it.”

The Upland district plans to chop its next school year’s budget by $6.5 million, with most of the reductions coming through negotiations, Rutherford said.

“We have some hard decisions ahead of us, these reductions are either in salary, benefits or both,” he said. “We already have enacted two furlough days that are not affecting the school year, and we’re at the table now to possibly extend those.”

Fontana Unified School District officials expected to cut only $11.8 million if the tax extensions were approved. Without it, the district will need to cut another $13 million, said Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks.

The district has already reduced counseling programs, maintenance positions and management positions.

Additionally, the district has issued hundreds of layoff notices to teachers and other employees.

“I understand (lawmakers) are in a stalemate, but it puts us in the position of making reductions that impact the students,” Olsen-Binks said. “But we have to be fiscally responsible. You can’t offer to pay for something you don’t have the money for.”

Even before the failure of Brown’s election attempt, officials of Chino Valley Unified asked staffers to find ways to raise revenue. One of those will be Saturday’s first-ever Chino Valley Foodie Truck Festival fundraiser for the district.

“We are getting ready to launch a campaign that seeks business support – called 100 percent – as we feel that our community understands the economic crisis is a state-wide phenomenon and not isolated to the Chino Valley,” said Julie Gobin, spokeswoman for the district.

“We were hopeful that the tax measure (would) make it on to the ballot and it would spare us from further cuts, but that doesn’t appear to be the case at this time.”

Chino Valley Unified expects to have to cut its general fund by about another $11 million. Class sizes are expected to increase in fourth through 12th grades, Gobin said.

The single-school Mount Baldy District is looking at a deficit next year of about $124,000. Half of that will be recovered by dipping into their reserves and the other half “are made up from non-classroom expenses, and possible classified and certificated work year or salary reductions,” Superintendent Kevin Vaughn said.

In addition, Vaughn said the district will not be able to rescind its one layoff notice.

Without the possibility of the tax extension, Rancho Cucamonga-based Cucamonga School District will need to reduce its 2011-12 budget by about another $315,000.

Superintendent Janet Tempkin said the school board has been committed to cutting as far away from the classroom and the employees, but that is no longer possible.

“The district had to release six temporary teachers and issue precautionary notices to one assistant principal and one counselor. At this point, we are not optimistic about rescinding those notices,” she said.

“This means that class sizes throughout the district will be much higher next year, and there will be less administrative support for students and staff at our middle school.”

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