Ed budget imposes historic limit on district spending plans

Buried deep inside the education budget bill, still pending on the governor's desk, is what might be an historic effort by the state to direct schools on writing their 2011-12 spending plans.

Legislation approved by lawmakers late Tuesday, requires districts to plan for receiving a fully funded Proposition 98 guarantee next year despite also including triggers that would cut school support if revenue benchmarks are not reached.

In addition, AB 114 suspends districts' ability to issue layoffs to certificated employees between now and August 15.

Finally, there is a provision that suspends the requirement that districts have a three year budget certified by their county office of education.

Imposing the new requirements, say some school officials, is unprecedented.

It's overreaching," said Dennis Myers, assistant executive director for the California Association of School Business Officials. "The intent is clearly to handcuff (districts) and how they plan to put their budgets together."

Myers said that the bill will give employee unions a new tool for forcing districts to rescind layoffs.

"As the boards are trying to decide what to do, people are going to be waiving that (education) bill in their face saying you have to go back on all of your layoffs," he said. "That is something that is going to make the next two months of board meetings very pressure-filled."

Dean Vogel, the president of the California Teachers Association, said educators are grateful for the budgeting certainty provided next year because midyear cuts are highly unlikely.

"I guess it's possible, but it doesn't seem probable that that's going to happen," he said.

If further reductions do end up being needed, Vogel said that locals would need to bargain them out in good faith.

"Laying off teachers is not your only solution for dealing with a budget deficit. You have to be willing to come together and look at your options and make some decisions about where you want to go," he said.

According to CTA data, approximately 20,000 teachers received pink slips this year and over 40 percent have already been rescinded.

At issue is the threat of midyear cuts that districts might face if a $4 billion projection for new revenues assumed in the newly-adopted budget are not reached.

Under the plan, the governor's Department of Finance will decide on December 15 whether projected revenues are high enough to trigger midyear cuts.

The cut would be prorated based on the amount that revenues fall short of projections. If revenues rise $2 billion above former projections made in May, there will be no school cuts. If revenues make no gains above May projections, then schools will face a $1.5 billion cut.

Some superintendents have already expressed concern that the revenue figures are overly optimistic. And thus, they may not wish to restore all of the cuts they've already planned for.

If the mid-year cuts are enacted, schools have new authority to cut the school year by up to seven days. But that move would need to be negotiated through local collective bargaining.

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