School budget yo-yo in flux again

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown

Gilroy Unified School District trustees will begin to visit the feasibility of restoring furlough days during Thursday’s Board of Education budget study session, but the glimmer of possible good news may be overshadowed by an ominous fiscal rain cloud.

In November, if voters fail to pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s newly proposed initiative – which increases the sales tax by one-half percent and temporarily raises the personal income tax on California citizens who make more than $250,000 annually – GUSD will shoulder an estimated $4.6 million reduction in funding. This could shorten the 2012-13 school year by 15 days.

In the meantime, GUSD staff are in the dark concerning their eight days of mandatory, unpaid time off. The cancellation of three staff development days (which were sprinkled throughout the year) and five instructional days in June is already appearing via a 4 percent pay reduction spread evenly across eight paychecks. This commenced in November 2011 and will continue until June 2012. All of GUSD’s employees are required to take the eight furlough days.

The question of reinstating these furlough days surfaced in December after Gov. Brown released a slightly rosier number than the previously expected $1.35 billion in school cuts.

The midyear trigger for K-12 education, which went into effect Jan.1 after state revenues fell short of projections, turned out to be $328 million.

This means GUSD is only looking at a $60 loss in funding per average daily attending student (ADA), according to GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores.

It’s a stark difference from the previously estimated $260 ADA loss; a blow GUSD braced for by approving the 4 percent pay cut via eight furlough days (which is closer to a 10 percent hit, when rising healthcare costs are factored in).

Due to midyear budget changes at the state level, the possibility of putting some of these furlough days back on the calendar is now up for discussion in closed sessions between the district and its labor unions – a variable that could change the June 1 graduation date.

“People are putting two and two together and saying, ‘OK, the district clearly didn’t have the kind of cuts they anticipated, so can they restore the furlough days,’” explained Flores.

GUSD school board Co-President Tom Bundros, however, reiterated there has been no formal discussion of the possible number of furlough days – if any – that could get reinstated. Trustees will answer questions about the cost of furlough days during a 5:30 p.m. budget study session Thursday at district offices. Flores reminded this is a negotiable item, however and must be discussed in closed session at the negotiating table.

When asked if she would like to see at least five instructional days restored, Flores said she did not want to voice an opinion.

“I want to see the cost of the furlough days, and see what that would do to the next two years,” she said. “Obviously we would all love to restore the instructional days. But we also have to balance that desire with having a fiscally sound budget for three years.”

Like Flores, GUSD school board Co-President Rhoda Bress said commenting on furlough days would be premature, but agreed “all of us went into that reluctantly. It’s not good for students to cut instructional days. It’s not good for teachers, either.”

Flores did confirm several school board trustees have requested to explore the possibility of reinstating furlough days.

Still, district leaders must plan three years ahead, she said. While GUSD will finish this fiscal year with an extra $3 million, the district will be in the red the following two years.

According to Rebecca Wright, GUSD Superintendent of Business Services, and GUSD Director of Fiscal Services Allan Garde, the possible 15-day reduction to the 2012-13 school year equates to a more than 12 percent salary decrease over a two-year period.

A Gilroy teacher making a $60,000 salary, for example, has already taken a $2,623 pay cut this year. If the school year is reduced by another 15 days, this equates to an additional $4,918 salary reduction.

Before the 4 percent pay cut, a GUSD teacher made on average $65,643.

“In this budget, the governor made a sincere effort to maintain funding for existing programs,” Wright wrote in an email. “However, even if the initiative passes there are no gains to funding for public education.”

Meaning, things would only get worse if Brown’s tax initiative – which would require a two-thirds vote – doesn’t pass: K-12 schools would take a $4.8 billion hit in 2012-13.

“We will recommend caution because of the multi-year projection. We have to make reductions in the next two years, so what kinds of further reductions can we make if we restore furlough days?” Flores said Friday. “We can’t just look at the one-year improvement.”

If any of the furlough days are reinstated, Bundros said the difference would somehow be reimbursed back to teachers.

Change or no change in the calendar year, Flores said the decision must be reached among trustees and bargaining units for certificated staff (teachers, counselors, nurses)  and para-educators (part-time teachers and aides).

As it is, GUSD already saw its transportation funding cut in half by the midyear triggers, equating to a $531,845 loss.

Brown’s newly released budget will cut 100 percent of state transportation funding; an additional $528,000 blow to GUSD. However, the district is still required to pay for the cost of special education transportation – with or without state funding.

When asked if GUSD would visit the idea of a parcel tax, Bundros said there has been an interest among trustees in seeing whether “that would have a likelihood of passing in Gilroy.”

“That’s up for future discussion,” he continued. “I’m not sure about this month, but it will be coming. With the parcel tax we could use the money to sustain programs and/or grow them in the face of severe budget cuts in California. So what we need to do is look at the details of that, and what we would need to do to get it on the ballot.”

Michelle Nelson, president of the Gilroy Teacher’s Association, said her reaction to the idea of a parcel tax is “finally.”

The GTA has asked for a number of years to explore this possibility, she said.

“It’s been shot down before because people said it will never work,” said Nelson. “How do you know unless you try it? I know everybody is hurting financially but I don’t know what else we’re supposed to do. If people want to have the same level of education, they may just have to pay for it.”

– Places a $6.9B tax initiative on the November ballot. Theinitiative temporarily raises the income tax for those making morethan $250,000 a year, and increases the sales tax by one-halfpercent.
– If the initiative passes, GUSD will “only” lose $2M in fundingfrom the state. If the initiative doesn’t pass, GUSD will lose anestimated $4.6M.
– Eliminates the requirement for a transitional kindergartenprogram that would have been mandatory beginning in 2012-13.
– Reduces state funding for childcare and child development forlow-income families by $517 million, but increases funding forspecial education and charter schools.
n For a teacher making $60K, this year’s 4 percent pay cut (viaeight furlough days) equates to a $2,623 salary decrease. Cuttinganother 15 school days is an additional $4,918 decrease.

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