The worsening state budget is posing a significant threat to local school district budgets. Fortunately, Hemet Unified School District (HUSD) has the wherewithal to withstand the potential short-term reductions. In the longer term, Hemet could possibly see its state funding reduced $12 million more within this budget year, according to HUSD superintendent Dr. Steven Lowder. But Lowder feels that present resources would allow the district to be unaffected by that reduction if it were to occur.
The actual direction to make reductions will be made in December when the Governor’s Finance Director announces her staff’s projections. But she has already said that she expects some reductions to be necessary.
The current threat stems from falling state revenues. In June, Gov. Jerry Brown and the state legislative majority balanced the 2011-12 budget with a very weak assumption about growing state revenue.
At an October talk, California Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor acknowledged that the assumption was based on some growth in income tax revenue following the spring tax payments. However, the idea of an additional $4 billion was a low probability.
Fortunately, he said, the budget included automatic triggers to implement state budget cuts if the receipt of the $4 billion proved unlikely by mid-year.
Last week, Taylor’s office issued its forecast for the balance of 2011-12. He estimated that the state budget would end with a $3.7 billion deficit. This is a combination of the failure for the revenue stream to meet the June expectations and his assumption that the cuts would occur without legislative intervention to stop them.
A $3.7 billion deficit would trigger $2 billion in cuts. Most of these fall in the education programs, both K-12 and higher education. Some additional cuts will be made in social service programs such as in-home services, youth offenders and libraries.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January, there might be some talk of modifying the triggers and proposed reductions; however, St. Senator Bill Emmerson (R-37) was skeptical that would happen.
“While I believe we’ll very soon [after convening] deal with budget issues, I don’t think the Legislature can change the triggers,” he opined. “The majority party tried to do that in September and the Department of Finance and the Governor opposed it.”
After the 2011-12 adjustments, Taylor estimated that the 2012-13 state budget would have a $13 billion deficit.
“The projected revenue growth just isn’t occurring,” said Emmerson. “If you look at the total economy, the $10 billion in capital gains would be there.”
Emmerson also said the $4 billion revenue growth which was to have appeared overnight has been called by some the “First Dog Capital Park Find.”
In a poll (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times) last week, more than 60 percent of respondents said they would recommend increasing public school funding, even if it meant paying more income tax.
More than half also thought California public schools were deteriorating, even if they thought the schools were currently in good shape.
But public school funding has been falling for several years. “We’ll get through it,” Lowder said. He has already had some information meetings with the Hemet Teachers Association. But he recognizes limits to the growth in class sizes that might result if staffing is reduced again.
“The folks are supposed to be leaders in Sacramento, but they aren’t acting like leaders,” he lamented. “They’re not dealing with fiscal reality. They’re postponing it. Instead of preparing for the worst they’re hoping for the best.”