Wyatt Buchanan
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sacramento — California’s public schools could see as much as a month of classroom time slashed from the calendar if voters reject a plan to raise taxes in November.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed giving school districts the option of cutting up to 15 days from the school year if voters reject his proposed income and sales tax initiative. The significantly shortened year would help offset a multibillion-dollar automatic midyear cut that would be implemented upon rejection of the taxes.

Districts statewide already have the option of cutting five days from the 180-day school calendar in order to reduce costs, and the proposal for three more weeks would be in addition to that. Public schools would take the biggest hit if the taxes fail, as nearly $5.5 billion out of the $6 billion in automatic cuts would come from their budgets under the governor’s plan.

Brown on Tuesday noted that the Legislature would ultimately decide what the so-called “trigger cuts” would entail, but he said that giving schools such an option is the only way to deal with the uncertainty.

“I’m doing the only thing that can be done, and that is assume the taxes and put in the trigger cuts,” Brown said after making a pitch for his tax plan to a gathering of the California Chamber of Commerce. “Is it the best way? It’s the only way that I can see going forward.”
Opposition to cuts

Polls of state voters in recent months have shown overwhelming opposition to the governor’s proposal for automatic spending cuts.

Education leaders said there are myriad problems with the proposal, including that Brown would want school districts to bargain with teachers unions to make such a reduction. That would result in districts having to make vast concessions for the unions to agree to what essentially would be a one-month reduction in pay, said Jill Wynns, president of the California School Boards Association.

“I don’t know what we would have to give, but … I guarantee in the future people would say, ‘How could that have gotten into the contract?’ ” Wynns said.

Shortening the school year any more would put the state and its students at a significant disadvantage for learning, and Californians would be fooling themselves to think otherwise, she said.

“From my point of view this is a huge game of pretend. We’re pretending you can have a world-class public school system without paying for it, and that’s just wrong. It’s a lie,” she said.

The Legislature first allowed school districts to shorten the 180-day year by five days as part of the February 2009 budget agreement, when the state was on the brink of financial collapse. Districts have the option of doing that until the 2014-15 school year.

In the current school year, 35 percent of school districts statewide have reduced their calendars between one and five days, according to a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. As part of the budget deal last year, the Legislature gave districts the option of reducing this school year by an additional seven days, but no districts took that option, according to the analyst.

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