Gov.’s budget may improve TTUSD outlook | SierraSun.com

Gov.’s budget may improve TTUSD outlook

Renee Shadforth, Sierra Sun

If the 2004-05 budget looks anything like the one Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed to the Legislature, the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District might be in slightly better shape than it was last year, Superintendent of Business Services Ralph Johnson said.

However, don’t expect next year’s budget to solve everything, he said.

“Because of the state cuts last year, we took steps back. So when we’re rolling forward this year, we’re rolling forward at a lower base,” Johnson said.

Last year at this time, Tahoe Truckee Unified was looking at the possibility of mid-year cuts from the state.

Making a rough estimate on his calculator, Johnson said the governor’s budget proposal would mean a $368,000 increase for TTUSD’s $34 million budget, or slightly more than a 1 percent increase on last year’s state funding, which ran at a 3 percent deficit.

Johnson and two school board representatives, Cindy Gustafson and Dan Collin, attended a governor’s budget workshop put on by School Services of California on Dec. 13.

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There was one strong message Gustafson said she took away from the workshop.

“They cautioned us to be as conservative possible in budgeting for next year. They cautioned us repeatedly about that,” Gustafson said. “My message to the board will be that we need to be very conservative until we know the outcome.”

The deal

Days before the Gov. Schwarzenegger announced his budget, his administration struck a multi-billion-dollar deal with a coalition of California education groups, including the California Teachers Association, the state’s most powerful education lobby.

The deal includes a long-term plan that gives the state’s K-12 public education system $2.8 billion less than it’s guaranteed under Proposition 98, a constitutional amendment promising schools a certain amount of funding each year.

However, in the proposed budget, a $1.3 billion shift in property tax revenues from county governments to public schools would offset the money lost from the Proposition 98 obligation.

As part of the deal with education groups, future-year revenues will be restored and go to public schools first.

A 1.48 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) is also proposed in the governor’s budget. The state would increase its spending on programs like special education and class size reduction, but transportation funding would not receive a COLA.

What’s next?

Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal is contingent on the passage of Proposition 57, a $15 billion recovery bond on the March 2 ballot that was approved by the Legislature. If it doesn’t pass, it will send the governor back to the drawing board to work on a new budget, Johnson said.

California’s 2004-05 budget still has to be passed by the Legislature, but Tahoe Truckee Unified will use Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal to start building budget assumptions for the 2004-05 school year.

“It might not be what gets finalized, but it’s enough for me and my staff to start doing hard calculations on the revenue side and start to develop a budget for next year,” Johnson said.

If this year’s budget process is anything like the last couple of years, it could be eight months until school districts know how much California is going to spend on education.

“I expect that there will be a lot of change (by the Legislature to the governor’s budget),” Johnson said. “There’s quite a bit of politics at play here and politics are a lot less predictable.”

Johnson expects to have 2004-05 budget assumptions to the school board the first week of February.

If anything, this year’s projections will be more complicated than year’s past, Johnson said. Not only is there the state education budget to mull over, but now, with TTUSD’s basic aid status, the school district also has to take into account property tax income from the three different counties it represents.

The school district will hold a public workshop Jan. 21 in the district board room to discuss basic aid.

March ballot initiatives that affect schools

— Proposition 55: A state bond measure that would provide $10 billion matching funds to K-12 facilities.

— Proposition 57: A $15 billion economic recovery bond for the state. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget and education plan is contingent on this bond passing. The bond is a multi-year solution and will create roughly 14 years of debt for California.

— Proposition 58: The Balanced Budget Act would create a constitutional amendment requiring the state to enact a balanced budget, create a budget reserve and restrict borrowing in future budget years. Since state tax revenues fell in 2001, California’s budget has been out of balance, affecting the state’s contribution to public schools.

For more information on these and other March 2 ballot initiatives, check out smartvoter.org.