Billions may be axed from schools |

Billions may be axed from schools

With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget cutting $5 billion in state funding for public education, local educators are uncertain how much the suggested reduction would affect schools in the Truckee-Tahoe area.

“Honestly, we are still assessing the potential impact,” said Trustee Bill Kraus of the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District in an e-mail note. “If all of the governor’s proposed cuts to education are made, it would have a damaging financial impact on our local school system ” but it is unclear at this point, how much is smoke, and how much is fire.”

Last Thursday, Schwarzenegger dealt a blow to educators by proposing $4.8 billion in revenue cuts to California’s public schools. The governor proposed accomplishing the belt-tightening by suspending Proposition 98, the landmark school funding guarantee voters approved in 1988.

Officials from the Placer County Board of Education, tasked with overseeing

the Tahoe-Truckee district budget, say local schools may have a secret

weapon — a large revenue stream from county property taxes.

“I realize [Tahoe Truckee’s district] is a declining enrollment district, which is a challenge, but they have a something positive on their side, they are a basic aid district,” said Gayle Garbolino-Mojica, Placer County’s education superintendent. “If you are not basic aid, 58 percent of your revenue is state funded.”

Basic aid means that a district receives more funding from property taxes than from the state. Thanks to relatively high property values in Truckee and the Basin, local schools receive more than two-thirds of their revenue from property taxes and just 12 percent from state aid, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business Earl Wammack.

But Kraus indicated declining enrollment could mean trouble in the local real estate market, which in turn could mean declining property tax revenues.

“Clearly the state is in serious financial straits, and that coupled with the leveling off of our local real estate economy is cause of concern, especially for a basic-aid district whose growth depends on property taxes,” he said.

The proposed cuts could also threaten the district’s state-mandated reserve fund, according to Garbolino-Mojica, by affecting the district’s ability to hang onto the reserves.

The governor’s proposed budget has district officials consulting with a financial services firm to find out what the possible cut in state funding could mean.

“We are working with School Services, as we did last year, to begin our budget planning for 08-09,” said Trustee Bev Ducey. “They will be doing a presentation at our next board meeting on the ‘state of the state’ financial crisis, as well as what that might mean for Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District.”

“If it does go through, [it] will have negative impact on our schools,” Garbolino-Mojica said. “I predict the school district [would] increase the number of students per classroom, reduce nonessential services like computer labs and instructional support, and programs that are not mandated, such as supplies, aids, tutors, equipment [and] computers.”

One of the hardest hit could be special education, although those programs are mandated by the state . The money would ultimately have to come from another area of the district’s budget, she said.

The governor’s budget cuts propose a $400 million reduction in the current year funding, which Ducey said would “likely” create some “mid-year cuts for the 07-08.” The five trustees will meet to discuss the issue during their next regularly scheduled board meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23.

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