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Santa Barbara School District Preparing for Worst-Case Scenario with State Budget in Limbo

Facing a possible $5.5 million revenue loss, Superintendent Dave Cash says 'everything has to be on the table'

A $5.5 million question mark looms over the Santa Barbara Unified School District as officials prepare for the worst going into the 2012-13 budget cycle.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget is far from final, but that doesn’t appease Superintendent Dave Cash. It’s full of “ill-conceived ideas” such as temporary taxes being decided halfway through the fiscal year, eliminating home-to-school transportation funding and ultimately cutting K-12 funding for the fifth straight year, Cash said at a Monday news conference.

Bargaining units have 2011-14 contracts that let the district impose up to 10 furlough days, and the district doesn’t plan to pursue more. However, officials want to talk with unions further to discuss options such as bigger class sizes, fewer instructional days, and materials and supplies.

“Everything has to be on the table,” Cash said. “We can’t dismiss an option because it’s distasteful.”

Brown’s budget proposal says K-12 education will be “spared from cuts” and funded at the same levels at 2011-12, but only assuming the November tax initiative will pass. Even if it does, it wouldn’t bring additional revenue to education; if it fails, there would be a $370-per-student cut.

Cash said that’s a “trigger reduction” of $4.8 billion statewide, which would result in a funding cut equivalent to more than three weeks of instruction time and a $5.5 million revenue loss for the Santa Barbara district.

Officials have to plan for every possible scenario, since it must give layoff notices by March — months before the Legislature’s deadline to adopt a budget.

“We have to act without really knowing all the facts,” Cash said.

The per-pupil spending is an increase from last year, to $7,815, which is still $2,586 below the national average, according to a California Budget Project report.

The state would also reduce Proposition 98 funding to special education and community colleges to “offset” increased property taxes from eliminating redevelopment agencies, according to the budget proposal. Cash called it an excuse to lower funding and doubts the district will see revenues, at least next year, from the elimination of RDAs.

Brown’s proposed budget eliminates funding for the new transitional kindergarten program and home-to-school transportation, an estimated cost of $800,000, according to Cash. He said the Santa Barbara school board voted to implement the transitional kindergarten program for the 2012-13 year but will now have to reconsider since funding is gone.

Unification of the elementary and secondary districts was a strong financial and symbolic move, but the deal came with a caveat: No classified employees can receive layoffs for two years.

The district’s other local efforts to drum up funding have gone well, with two parcel tax measures and two general obligation bond measures passed within the past four years. The community’s support helps maintain programs and the voter-approved funds are “not subject to the state’s whim,” Cash said.

Click here for Gov. Brown’s K-12 education budget summary.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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