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AUSD ready for fresh state cuts

Submitted by on 1, June 10, 2009 – 6:00 amNo Comment
The Lincoln Pirates band, during a happier moment of Tuesday's school board meeting.

The Lincoln Pirates band, during a happier moment of Tuesday's school board meeting.

On Tuesday night, district officials offered the school board its first public glimpse of a balanced budget for next year that is free of the cuts that have long plagued Alameda Unified, despite mushrooming state budget reductions.

Still, they cautioned that the strategies they’re using to balance the budget over the next few years – strategies that include the use of the district’s temporary parcel taxes and other money that won’t be available for more than a year or two – won’t still the budget ax in the future.

Chief Financial Officer Tim Rahill said the district could be facing $5 million in cuts by the 2011-12 school year and up to $14 million the following year unless a long-term solution to the permanent loss of state funds is found. He said cuts could begin in the 2010-11 school year, depending on the budget decisions the board makes.

“It’s never too early to start planning for a potentially $14 million problem for the Alameda Unified School District,” Rahill said.

The school board is slated to consider and vote on the district’s budget for next year on June 23.

The state appears to be on track to cut the amount of money it gives Alameda Unified for basic educational expenses by more than $500 per student for next year, or about 10 percent from what it paid in 2007-08. The district’s “categorical” programs – programs like adult education, teacher training, class size reduction and art and music, which have their own separate, dedicated state funding streams – will have been cut by nearly 20 percent if the state budget continues on its current track.

If approved by the school board, the district would use Measure H parcel tax money, unspent money from categorical programs and federal stimulus money to cover the shortfall in state funds next year. When that money runs out, school board trustees may be forced to consider cutting categorical programs outright.

Under current conditions (as dictated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget, released last month), Alameda Unified would use up almost all of the $9.1 million fund balance it holds with money from the Measure H parcel tax, unspent funds for categorical programs and more by the end of the 2011-12 school year. (The district holds a separate reserve fund as well that isn’t included in that amount.)

The state’s budget is in such turmoil that lawmakers are considering additional budget cuts for the school year that ends on Friday. And the future of the state budget – which accounts for more than three-quarters of the district’s funding – means the district must pass a budget without really knowing how much money they’ll get.

“If we close one high school, one middle school and six elementary schools, it still doesn’t solve this issue,” school board President Mike McMahon said. He said the persistent funding shortfalls will mean smaller teacher salaries or more packed classrooms.

In the meantime, some of the state’s budget-balancing proposals include cutting the school year by up to seven days, which could save the district up to $2.8 million if district staff are willing to do it. The district could also pack up to 25 kids in its K-3 classrooms for a potential savings of around $1 million, subject to negotiation with teachers.

District officials have started working on a master plan for Alameda Unified that will lay out how they’ll educate the district’s 9,600 students and how they’ll pay for that education.

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