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    State deficit means hit to Albany schools

    by Barbara Grady

    Using Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed state budget with its cuts to education, welfare and child care, the Albany Unified School District figures it is looking at $5.2 million in cuts over two years including $1.2 for the year about to begin, and possibly an end to subsidizies for after-school programs, officials said this week.

    “School districts are already hemorrhaging” said Laurie Harden, assistant superintendent for Albany Unified School District at a board meeting Tuesday night as she presented a tentative budget.

    Her tally of the losses to Albany include $4 million last year and $1.2 million expected for the academic year starting in September for a ccombined 14 percent bite out of Albany’s school budget. Last year, California schools, including Albany’s, endured the biggest cuts in staff and programs in a generation. Harden and Superintendent Marla Stephenson said state cuts are not over, but to absorb the $1.2 million in additional cuts, they submitted a plan that relies on Albany’s new parcel and spending some of the districts reserves. The new parcel tax of $149 per parcel, or house, will first be collected in December, providing about $1 million in new revenue. The plan also calls for spending about $700,000 of the reserve funds. These two actions should allow the district to avoid more teacher lay offs although some administrative jobs might be lost.

    The amount the state contributes per student looks like it will fall by $1,400 to about $4,900 a student, Harden said. That would put California below most other states in per pupil spending. So-called supplemental income from local parcel taxes, federal grants and contributions will add to Albany’s spending per pupil to above $5,200. Still, that is much less than is spent per pupil in many other states. In several northeastern states, where the cost of living is similar to California, education spending per pupil is more than twice California’s.

    The continued assault on education funding and thus the kind of education that children of California have available to them, has begun to stir up passions. In March, thousands of people in California protested in Sacramento and other cities on the California Day of Action for Education. And at Albany’s board of education meeting Tuesday, many people described how upset they are.

    “These budget assumptions are not acceptable – but that is not a comment on the board – this is a comment on what we as a society are allowing to happen to our state and education in our state,” said Loring Barker, a science teacher at Albany High School and a member of the Albany Teachers Association. Barker urged people to contact their state legislators to object to California’s repeated cuts to education.

    Meanwhile, dozens of parents of pre-school and elementary school children lamented the loss of state funding for after school care programs. Many parents begged the board not to close the after-school Cedars, Maples, Tupelo and Chinese Language programs even though the state no longer will provide funding. In Albany, these after-school programs serve 378 children at the three elementary schools. . The Albany Children’s Center pre-school program serves another 120 children. In the past these programs have been funded by a separate budget, the Child Development grant of $600,000 from the state. But Gov. Schwarzenegger proposes to eliminate that grant program, so for Albany to continue these programs it would have to find new money.

    Superintendent Stephenson said the district is negotiating with the YMCA after school program to take in all the children now served by the district’s after school programs and to hire all the Albany after-school and preschool staff. Meanwhile, though, the board voted Tuesday to give pink slip notices to the after school program teachers aides because it is required by law to give employees 45 days notice of a possible downsizing of stafs. Current funding would run out August 6. Stephenson and board members vowed to try hard to find an alternative funding mechanism to keep the programs open.

    As to kindergarten through high school, the board voted to approve a tentative budget that calls for spending $700,000 from the district’s reserve funds and eliminating some administrative posts. The current 8.9 percent reserve would slip to 6.9 perrcent and slightly below the state average, Harden said, but still an acceptable reserve.

    “We cut to the bone last year,” noted board member Miriam Walden.

    Last year, the state was hammered by a $40 billion deficit and to deal with it slashed public education funding in several rounds along with other kinds of spending. Since public education is the largest state expense, it took the lion’s share of cuts. Albany lost 17 teaching positions as well as many janitors, secretaries, classroom aides and others.

    Albany voters and community members responded by passing an emergency parcel tax that provided about $1.2 million and by contributing to school fundraising organizations in record amounts.

    Luckily the emergency parcel tax will kick in this coming December, partly offsetting the loss. However, donations to SchoolCARE, the district wide fundraising organization, are half of what they were last year, noted board president Ron Rosenbaum.
    In another hit, the federal Stimulus program that provided AUSD with more than $1 million last year won’t be repeated in 2010.

    “In my 20 years in public finance I’ve never seen something like this,” said board member David Glasser about the two years of steep cuts to education.

    In California a majority of funding for education comes from the state through a mechanism in which local property taxes are distributed from Sacramento. For Albany, 60 percent of school district revenues come from the state, 17 percent from the federal government and 19 percent from local parcel taxes, Harden said. The remaining 4 percent are various other state grants.

    Even though the state has not passed a budget yet for the next fiscal year, public school districts are required to pass budgets in June. The state’s deadline is July 1 but the legislature has seldom met that deadline.

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