Cuts to local school district possible if tax hike rejected

The Berkeley Unified School District could see cuts totaling more than $3.2 million if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax hike is not approved, based on the proposed state budget for 2012-13.

At its meeting Wednesday, the district’s Board of Education discussed several scenarios for how the district — which has a total budget of about $100 million  — can meet the potential $4.8 billion cut to state K-12 and community colleges if the nearly $7 billion tax measure is not passed by voters on the November ballot this year.

“It’s a pretty substantial reduction,” said District Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland at the meeting. “We definitely need to promote this tax measure passing.”

The proposed state budget, which was released in early January, has two major versions with differing financial ramifications for education. The first scenario assumes that voters approve the tax measure that would soften the cuts to the district, while the second assumes it is rejected and details the more severe trigger cuts that would follow.

The $6.9 billion tax measure, if approved, would provide no additional spending for education, but would maintain revenue at approximately 2011-12 pre-trigger-cut levels, according to a report presented at Wednesday’s meeting. The measure, which would continue through 2016, entails a number of increases, including a 0.5 percent increase in sales tax.

In this scenario, state funding for transportation would be eliminated — a reduction of $965,000 for the district. Also cut would be a special early kindergarten program that the district offers, along with other services for low-income families.

The second scenario presents a budget with even steeper cuts. Assuming voters reject the tax measure, the district will face a $3.2 million drop in funds, according to the report.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said district Superintendent Bill Huyett. “Thirty-eight years, and there’s never been anything like it.”

Exacerbating the reductions are automatic trigger cuts totaling $5.4 billion that would go into action should the tax measure be turned down. The trigger cuts hit education the hardest, with K-14 schools bearing the brunt of the reductions.

“It affects education more than it does other entities by quite a bit,” Cleveland said.

The district’s budget proposals will be readjusted over the next few months as Brown’s proposals are altered. The district has to approve a final budget before the beginning of the new school year in the fall.

In light of the considerably grimmer picture presented by the second scenario, board members stressed the need for outreach to families in the district and the Berkeley community regarding the tax measure.

“This is not a good scenario, any way you look at it  — worst case, it’s catastrophic,” said school board President John Selawsky. “I can’t imagine what we or other districts would do in that situation. We have to get support for those initiatives and lobby in Sacramento for better and more reasonable legislation.”