BY JIM MILLER
SACRAMENTO BUREAU
jmiller@PE.com

Published: 26 June 2012 06:59 PM

SACRAMENTO — A package of budget bills going before the Legislature would allow school districts to cut the school year to 160 days if voters reject higher tax levies this fall, a significant drop from the 175-day calendar now authorized.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised spending plan last month called for letting districts reduce the school year by a total of 15 additional days over two years, 2012-13 and 2013-14.

But the budget trailer bill dealing with education would allow districts to cut that amount in each of the two years to deal with billions in lost revenue if the governor’s November initiative fails. Districts would have to negotiate any cuts in the instructional year with their employee unions.

“I think everybody would agree that we’re moving in the wrong direction if we’re cutting the school year,” said Michael Fine, Riverside Unified School District’s deputy superintendent for business services. “But if they’re going to cut us midyear, they need to provide us with some relief.”

If the tax measure fails, Fine predicted that most districts would postpone any decision to shorten the school year until 2013-14. It would be chaos to reduce the 2012-13 school calendar after classes have already started, he said.

The November measure backed by Brown would temporarily raise the sales tax and increase the income tax on wealthy filers, generating an estimated $5.6 billion for the general fund.

Many school districts in Riverside and San Bernardino counties already are on shaky fiscal ground.

Based on state projections, 18 of Riverside County’s 23 school districts may not meet their financial obligations for 2011-2012 through 2013-14. Thirteen of San Bernardino County’s 33 school districts have the same status.

The K-12 trigger cut translates into a per-student reduction of at least $441 and as much as $479. In Riverside Unified, that could total more than $20 million. San Bernardino City Unified would lose more than $23 million.

Kevin Gordon, a Sacramento lobbyist for San Bernardino County schools, said school districts have few options to absorb the loss of revenue if the governor’s initiative goes down.

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