How do you plan a school district budget if you have no idea how much money you will be getting from the state?
That's the dilemma public school budget planners face.
When Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his budget proposal Monday, it looked as if public schools had escaped with a reprieve. Brown opted not to make additional cuts to schools serving kindergarten through 12th grade students.
But Brown's plan comes with a big if.
The proposal relies on California voters passing a June ballot measure to extend three tax increases that have been in effect since 2009. If they don't, K-12 and community colleges' share of the budget would be cut by at least $2.2 billion, said Ron Bennett, president of the consulting firm Schools Services of California Inc. Other experts peg the potential cut at double that amount.
The proposed budget also defers payment on $2.1 billion in state funding for schools and community colleges. That means the money, which is supposed to go to schools in the 2011-12 school year, would not actually be paid until the following school year.
In addition, schools traditionally expect cost-of-living increases each year to cover school operations. Brown's proposal eliminates that increase, estimated at about $100 per student.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the vote and the funding deferrals, the people who draw up school budgets face a bit of a quandary.
"Does a school district prepare for a flat budget or for a loss of $2.2 billion?" Bennett asked.
I think the answer is "yes". Sadly, they may have to plan for both scenarios. Back in the army, we'd say they should create a "decision support matrix"--you create an overall plan, which includes what to do if specific contingencies arise. Takes awhile, but once the battle starts, it's easier to have already thought things out.
There are some serious, and costly, drawbacks, though:
Districts won't know which plan to put in play until after the June vote, making it difficult to meet a state-required May 15 deadline to issue final pink slips to teachers and other staff. The likely result will be a slew of layoff notices that could be pulled back if voters approve the tax increase.
Every pink slip entails tons of work, including paperwork, to ensure that the correct (i.e., most junior) teachers get the pink slips. If one teacher who should have doesn't get a pink slip, every teacher senior to that one who did get a pink slip must have his/her pink slip revoked. Districts (and unions) spend a lot of time and paper to make sure this gets done correctly--and then there are the costs associated with substitute teachers when the pink-slipped teachers get to attend the layoff hearings and plead their cases before an administrative law judge. Such hearings take days.
Is there a better way for Governor Brown to handle this?