While the final revisions of the state budget will not be announced until May, school districts are currently being forced to make future decisions based on what some consider intangible figures, and the challenge for many is daunting.
The Oakley Union Elementary School District (OUESD), a small but active district operating with an annual budget of $34 million, is sitting pretty despite the anticipated funding cuts. The good news for this district's 4,460 students and 225 teachers is that prudent planning and a rainy-day fund will allow them to weather the state storm without staff layoffs or cuts in school programs.
"We have been able to avoid pink slips in part by switching to the modified traditional school year, and that allows us to cut expenditures that additional teachers would add," said Rick Rogers, OUESD superintendent. "Part of it is also that we are anticipating a little growth in the district and are tightening up the district transfer policies (allowing the district to keep more students in the Oakley system. We also stopped the 4-percent increase for our teachers for this year and that was a huge issue for us.
"But the district also has the luxury of a rainy-day fund, and guess what? It's raining, and for now, we have enough to weather the storm."
Dan Smith, superintendent of the Liberty Union High School District (LUHSD), is working with the school board to develop options to offset his district's anticipated $1.6 million deficit from the current $54 million operating budget.
With approximately 6,600 students and 308 teachers in the LUHSD, Smith understands it is likely some layoff notices will be given to teachers by the March 15 state deadline - the date by which anticipated layoffs must be officially declared - but is hopeful those numbers will be few, and is waiting until the last moment to make the cuts.
"This is a very serious issue, and we are trying to do all we can to save our employ ees," said Smith. "We are presenting options to the board and we're going to make the very best decisions that we can. It's a very distasteful process and one that no one enjoys. Like everyone else, we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best."
Over in the Brentwood Union School District (BUSD), Superintendent Merrill Grant is working on the same equations as the other districts; trying to figure a way to balance a 7-percent reduction in state funds with the needs of the BUSD's more than 8,000 students.
Grant said the district will issue 27 pink slips to teachers by March 15, and that some cuts across the board in programs, a scaling back of programs such as art and music, plus a possible increase in classroom size, should help the district meet its goals. And with a $60 million annual budget, Grant is looking at a $3.1 million reduction in dollars to balance, a challenge he knows everyone is facing.
"Well, it's a statewide issue that all 1,000 school districts are facing, and it cuts to the heart of our programs," said Grant. "But we are as prepared as we can be and now we'll just await the news in May."
With a whopping $147 million annual operating budget, the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) is facing a potential dollar reduction of approximately $8.7 million. Based on its 20,000 students and more than 1,000 teachers, the goal of this large district is to maintain the status quo.
"Realistically, we know that some positions will be affected," said Denise Porterfield, chief business official for the AUSD. "But without knowing anything until the May revise, it's hard to make accommodations.
"We're trying to stay as far away from the classrooms as possible and work through identifying our necessary and required programs. It's a challenge, but we'll come through."
Vickey Rinehart, superintendent of the Knightsen Elementary School District (KESD), also feels prepared for the coming school year. She feels that prudent planning has allowed her district of 523 students and 31 full- or part-time teachers, to confidently move forward despite the anticipated budget cuts.
Rinehart said she expects to cut roughly $300,000 from the KESD's $3.5 million operating budget, but feels confident the district can do so with minimal impact to the students. Pink slips have been avoided, thanks to the voluntary retirement of one full-time teacher, said Rinehart, a move that will save the district from imposing layoffs.
In fact, Rinehart hopes to implement a 2.5-percent salary increase for district teachers; down from the planned 5 percent anticipated at the beginning of the year, but still a notable increase in light of the state's financial difficulties.
"It's unusual (the raises), but we are doing the best we can," said Rinehart. "I think we're in better shape than most districts because we have planned well. One thing that helped us is that we planned for the opening of Old River (a new elementary school) and we have been setting aside money for two years for the construction and salaries. But we're also tightening our belts and looking at whether to perhaps charge for busing, looking at cutting custodial hours and asking parents to help out with instructional supplies. But I think we are going to be all right."
Eric Prater, the new superintendent of the Byron Union School District (BUSD), has been working with representatives from the community as well as staff and cabinet members to come up with the best possible scenario for his district of 1,600 students and approximately 100 teachers. Looking to slice anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million from the BUSD's $14 million budget, Prater said the primary goal is to impact the students as little as possible.
"We're trying to keep as far away from the classroom as we can," said Prater. "There is a possibility that we will have to reduce staff by a couple of teachers, but it doesn't look like we are going to have to lose any programs or impact the class sizes. We're going to make it through the 2008-09 year, but the real battle may come in the 2009-10 year. It's a very precarious situation, but we're in a good spot for right now."
Rogers, from the Oakley district, agrees with Prater about the potential for long-term problems throughout the state. "It (the state budget) is a train wreck," said Rogers. "And the only way to resolve it is to get the state to look at a more balanced approach and increase revenue, which means new taxes coupled with some reductions.
"You can't just keep cutting and cutting each year. I think the day will come when the residents of California will see that."