Local school districts' futures hang in the balance during the November election. Voters will have the opportunity to choose higher taxes or nearly $12 million in education cuts statewide when voting on the California Sales and Income Tax Initiative.
The Lodi Unified School District and the Galt Joint Union Elementary and High School districts could face shortened school years, increased class sizes and cuts to busing.
If the November tax initiative is passed, the state budget and education funding will remain as is. If the initiative fails, up to $460 per student per year will be withheld from Lodi Unified, or about $12.3 million.
The state will start withholding in January 2013 and end in June 2013.
Lodi Unified has enough in reserves to cover these shortfalls, over $26 million. But it's a one-time reserve, said Chief Business Officer Tim Hern, and the district will have to make changes the following year to bridge the gap.
"We would start the process of budget reductions for the 2013-14 school year and beyond as soon as the triggers are pulled. Everything would be on the table, including class size, school year and any and all unrestricted general fund expenditures," said Hern.
The school board will be forced to make difficult decisions to come up with that $12.3 million on top of the nearly $35 million in cuts from budgets in previous years, he said.
School officials in Galt are already coming up with specific possible reductions.
The elementary district cut five days from the 2012-13 school year and discussed with its school board the possibility of further furlough days, according to Superintendent Karen Schauer.
In multi-year budget projections, given the continued state budget crisis and uncertainty of the state tax initiative, the district is looking at projected cuts for 2013-14 of more than $2 million.
"These cuts are equivalent to closing two schools, plus 10 additional furlough days for a total of 15 (days) for all employees and no salary increases," Schauer said. "This underscores the importance of working further with our employee groups to consider additional days in 2012-13 so there would be fewer cuts in 2013-14."
District representatives will attend a state budget meeting next week that will provide more information about the 15-day school year reduction. But school districts will likely have to go to the union bargaining table to reduce the school year further, according to Schauer.
"Our students need more days, not fewer, to be collegeand career-ready and succeed in a global economy," she said.
Board president John Gordon agreed that cutting any days from the school instructional calendar is a delicate balance between balancing the books and providing a quality education.
"It doesn't make sense to have world class standards but not provide the time needed to effectively teach them," he added.
The board never discussed the possibility of the three-week reduction, according to Gordon.
"Obviously, further reductions would need to be bargained," he said, adding that the thought of reducing the school year even by three weeks is unfathomable.
Like many other school districts, the board approved its budget based on the worse-case scenario, should the governor's measure fail.
When the Galt high school district approved its 2012-13 budget, trustees based it on the November initiatives failing. If the initiative passes, that will increase reserves, which the district could apply to the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Meanwhile, the district has been negotiating furloughs with its union for the 2012-13 school year if the governor's tax initiative fails.
Both the classified and certificated unions are scheduled to meet next month. Other employee groups have already agreed to furloughs based on flat funding from the state.