By Diana Lambert
dlambert@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 – 6:53 am

School officials are on the edge of their seats.

In six weeks, they should know if they have to cut buses, shorten the school year, ask teachers to take furlough days, raid their reserves or cut programs.

That’s when revised revenue projections are expected from the state. If revenues fall short, it could trigger up to $1.75 billion in cuts that would hit K-12 districts in February.

The state was $654 million short of its revenue projections at the beginning of October, but school officials aren’t sure how much their districts will lose and what exactly they will do if the trigger is pulled.

“It’s almost impossible (to know),” said Rhonda Crawford, chief financial officer for Folsom Cordova Unified. “We do the best we can with what we know and what we can anticipate.”

Schools could lose 4 percent of their state revenue for student attendance if the trigger is pulled, as well $248 million in funds for bus transportation. The amount schools would lose depends on how close the state is to its revenue goal.

“The moving target continues to be the biggest challenge,” said Gabe Ross, spokesman for Sacramento City Unified.

Meanwhile, Assembly Bill 114, passed in July, makes it difficult for districts to squirrel away money just in case. The bill says school officials must ignore the prospect of the trigger and maintain staffing and program levels at the same funding level as last year.

So most districts scuttled the “worst-case scenario” budgets they had prepared before the state’s revised budget was approved and rehired many teachers and restored programs.

Now districts have fewer options, although state legislators have given districts permission to cut the school year by another seven days. Some districts have already cut the school year from the previous minimum of 180 to 175 days.

But cutting days must be negotiated with employee unions and, even if contracts are reopened, it isn’t likely negotiations could be completed in two months.

“Because we’ve already closed our contracts for this school year, it would be difficult to get everyone back at the table,” Crawford said.

There are exceptions. San Juan Unified’s unions have agreed to take up to five furlough days if the trigger is pulled. And the Sacramento City Teachers Association contract allows both the union and the district opportunities to reopen the contract several times a year, Ross said.

With transportation funding, however, there is little flexibility. Most districts have eliminated all but the most rural routes and federally mandated busing for special needs students.

To read entire story, click here.