Community Leader’s View: Mid-Year Cuts: Pulling ‘trigger’ could destroy public education in California

Bill Kowba, Superintendent

San Diego Unified School District

Last January, Governor Brown proposed a budget that balanced budget cuts with new tax revenues to support public education. That bold proposal was dependent on a bipartisan compromise in the legislature that would have given voters the opportunity to decide if they wanted to support public education. With no Republican support for his balanced revenues and cuts approach, the governor was forced to sign a budget that was based on precarious revenue expectations.

That budget included “trigger cuts” that could drastically cut education funding midyear if revenue projections in December fall below the revenue assumptions. For the first three months of this fiscal year, California is already more than $700 million below revenue projections. Should those projections fall more than $2 billion below the target, K-12 education could be cut by as much as $1.5 billion and San Diego Unified would be cut approximately $30 million midyear.

Even without midyear cuts San Diego Unified is facing a deficit of approximately $60 million for 2012-13. After four straight years of budget reductions, balancing next year’s budget will be more difficult than ever. It will necessitate more layoffs, class-size increases, and serious negotiations with employee groups about salary and benefit concessions that could mitigate the number of layoffs. To maintain the fiscal solvency of the district, we will need to enter these negotiations with a spirit of collaboration to reach a workable budget solution that can preserve the quality of education we provide to San Diego’s children.

If the State pulls the trigger on midyear cuts, the district will have few viable options other than to use depleted reserves and one-time solutions. This quick fix will escalate the projected deficit for 2012/13 to an unmanageable level of over $100 million. Under that worst-case scenario, even with employee concessions and hundreds of teacher and support staff layoffs, a balanced budget will be very difficult to achieve, challenging the fiscal solvency of the district.

The future of public education in California rests in the hands of the legislature and the Governor. Will they find an alternative to pulling the trigger, or will they give Californians an opportunity to vote on education funding, before it’s too late to save our schools?