Berkeley board of education to discuss how to address millions in cuts

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With Berkeley Unified School District facing a reduction of nearly $7 million if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax hike is not approved, the district’s Board of Education will discuss a proposed budget cut plan for the 2012-13 school year at its meeting Wednesday night.

The proposal on Wednesday’s agenda assumes that Brown’s nearly $7 billion tax initiative will be passed by voters in the November 2012 election, leaving the district with reductions ranging from $3 million to $3.6 million.

The proposed state budget for 2012-13, 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, which would result in an additional reduction of $3.2 million in the district on top of the assumed $3 million district cut. The state measure – which would provide no additional spending for education but would maintain revenue at approximately 2011-12 levels – would continue through 2016 and entails a number of increases, including a 0.5 percent increase in sales tax.

Assuming the state tax measure passes, the district’s proposed recommendations – presented to the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee on Feb. 28 — include $1.9 million in budget reductions and the use of $750,000 of the district’s reserves. The superintendent will consider input from the committee and present a final recommendation to the board for action at a May meeting. The board has until June 30 to approve a final budget based on the state’s final budget.

“Even if the tax measure passes, we have a structural deficit of about $3 million,” said school board director Josh Daniels.  “If they don’t pass it, we have another $3.2 million on top of that.”

According to Javetta Cleveland, the district deputy superintendent, recommended budget reductions include decreasing the workers’ compensation rate from 2.45 percent to 2.05 percent and a slight increase in the district’s student-to-teacher ratio. The recommendations also include a projected cut of $315,000 in funding to the Berkeley Adult School.

“None of the cuts will affect classes on our campus, but it will deeply affect a lot of students and teachers who teach off-site for us,” said Burr Guthrie, principal of the adult school.

According to the meeting agenda, staff members are proposing to use an additional $650,000 of the district’s reserves if cuts approach $3.6 million and an additional $3.2 million in reserves if the tax measures do not pass. Under the worst case scenario, the district’s reserves would be reduced by $4.6 million in 2012-13, leaving a balance of $1.8 million and necessitating significant reductions for the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to the agenda.

Exacerbating the reductions at the state level are automatic trigger cuts totaling $5.4 billion in the state 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.

“If the tax initiative does not pass, what we would do is uncertain at this point,” Daniels said. “One possibility would be that we would use our budget surplus to get us through the rest of 2012-13, and then we’d have essentially a very difficult budget process ahead of us.”