Schools brace for budget cuts

California’s projected $28 billion budget shortfall over the next 20 months — combined with reduced school enrollment and increased costs — could mean a loss of $4.4 million to Ramona Unified School District, Assistant Superintendent David Ostermann told school trustees.

“I wanted you to show you how devastating just the governor’s proposal would be to education and to Ramona,” Ostermann said during the district board meeting last Thursday. “And, again, these are just proposals. ... We don’t know how they’re going to be enacted, but something’s going to probably have to happen.”

State legislators were scheduled to meet in special sessions this week to address the crisis. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a sales tax increase and budget cuts to meet the projected shortfall.

“It sounds like an achievement gap problem — on the Legislature’s part,” said RUSD Trustee Rodger Dohm.

“The budget crisis is unprecedented,” said Trustee Luan Rivera. “... It strikes a lot of fear in my heart to think that we might be solving the budget crisis in the state by destroying opportunities for the future workforce of this state.”

Rivera said she hopes for some wisdom in Sacramento and some real solutions, “because we all know that (the) last years of smoke and mirrors have helped get us to this place.”

According to a summary of the state’s 2008-09 $144 billion budget,  it resolved the $24.3 billion deficit identified in May and provided a reserve of $1.7 billion. “While this budget does not resolve the state’s persistent structural budget deficit, it includes a historic budget reform measure that puts California on the path to fiscal stability and avoids borrowing from local governments or transportation funds,” the summary stated.

Reviewing how the state budget may affect the Ramona district’s  $53 million budget, Ostermann said:

• The governor’s plan to take away the .68 percent Cost of Living Adjustment increase for this year would mean roughly $300,000 to RUSD;

• Unrestricted funding cuts of 4-1/2 to 5 percent could mean $2.2 million in mid-year cuts;

• Enrollment this year of 6,609 students is down about 170 students, meaning about $1 million less money for the district next year; and

• Costs, specifically health benefits and employee raises for years with the district and-or additional education, are increasing and could be about $1 million.

“So it could be $4.4 million, less dollars, than we have right now over the next 20 months,” Ostermann said.

The governor has proposed flexibility with money targeted for specific programs and services, “but those details are awfully sketchy as well,” said Ostermann.

“So we have very little concrete details to go on,” he continued. “It’s all speculations right now, except the one thing everybody’s saying that there’s a 28 billion — plus or minus a few billion — dollar problem at the state level.”

   
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