Wednesday, March 21 , 2018, 2:22 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 55º


Cirone Furious at California’s Proposed $4.8 Billion Education Budget Cut

County schools chief exhorts business leaders to help him fight plans to slash education spending by 10 percent.

Mincing no words, an angry Bill Cirone, superintendent of Santa Barbara County’s schools, tried to rile up a group of business leaders and other professionals Friday about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut $4.8 billion from California’s public schools.

Speaking at a regular meeting of the Santa Barbara Partners in Education, Cirone’s face glowed red as he lambasted the proposal, which he said would amount to the largest statewide cut to education in U.S. history.

“The governor and the legislators need to feel the rage,” Cirone said. “Damn it, it’s time to stand up and be counted.”

Cirone said that even before the proposed 10 percent cut from the education budget, California ranked 46th in the nation for per-child funding in education — despite having what amounts to the world’s seventh-largest economy. (Washington D.C. ranks first, followed by New Jersey.)

“We even trail Mississippi and Alabama,” he said. “I don’t think that is something to be proud of.”

Other local educators weighed in Friday about the cuts’ effects on their local school districts. In a separate matter, meanwhile, Santa Barbara City College President John Romo asked the nonprofit organization to endorse a $77 million SBCC facilities bond initiative — Measure V —  that local voters will be asked to pass in June.

Cirone urged Partners in Education members — which include business, industry, government and higher-education leaders — to send letters to legislators decrying the proposed cuts.

He added that Sacramento’s solution of an across-the-board cut is a cop-out, noting that Schwarzenegger and the Legislature were elected to make hard choices and set priorities.

“How can we cut the entire budget by 10 percent and talk seriously about educating the next workforce?” he asked.

(Click here to read Cirone’s March 4 Noozhawk commentary.)

Santa Barbara schools Superintendent Brian Sarvis also gave the group an update on the dire situation in the K-12 school district, which is facing a $4 million cut from its $93 million discretionary budget this spring.

Sarvis noted that last year, the school board cut $2.5 million, but by and large was able to protect the students in the classroom — as well as the jobs of their teachers — from the reductions.

This year, he said, there will be more blood.

“We’re a highly people-rich institution,” he said. “We deliver services to people through people. Eighty-five percent of our expenses go to people — to salaries and benefits.”

Kathleen Boomer, superintendent of the Goleta Union School District, said her schools are feeling the pinch, too, despite how the district benefits from qualifying for a rare funding status known as basic aid, which allows the district to mostly fund itself through property taxes.

Next year, the Goleta school board, which works with a budget of about $37 million, is facing a revenue loss of roughly $850,000. As a result, Boomer said, she has sent layoff notices to 27 “temporary” teachers, meaning new hires who have not put in their two years to receive tenure.

In a normal year, Boomer said, she could advise teachers to apply to one of the neighboring districts.

“This year, there is nowhere else to go,” she said.

Romo, meanwhile, said SBCC is one of just five community college districts across the state that has not yet passed a construction bond to adhere to a new law requiring community colleges to match state grants with local tax dollars.


“The deterioration already there is going to get worse,” he said of some of the buildings in need of repair at the college’s Mesa, Schott Center and Wake Center campuses. Romo said the bond would cost the average Santa Barbara property owner $35 a year for 30 years.

Romo added that he has secured the endorsement of Joe Armendariz, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, which generally opposes new taxes. (Armendariz did so as an individual; the association has yet to decide on whether to offer its support.)

The educators’ presentations seemed to resonate with the audience.

“One of the things that really bugs me is how we spend an enormous amount of money on prisons — the bad guys are getting all the money, and the kids we’d like to help are cheated,” said Merrill Hoffman, president of Santa Barbara Locksmiths Inc.

Frank Schipper, president of Schipper Construction Co., asked Cirone to create a template letter, to better enable him to send his opinion to Sacramento.

“It seems like every time schools are the whipping boy,” he said.

Tom Thomas, a community relations executive at Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, said he believes the state, in addition to limiting expenses, needs to find ways to increase revenues. Raising taxes is one way to do that, he said, although he added that such measures are “obviously the least acceptable.”

Thomas said a preferable approach is to save money during the good times, such as during the dot-com boom in the early 2000s.

“The state said, ‘This is probably something that will continue forever,’" and so didn’t save adequately, he said. “People need to start thinking long-term. Real-estate is cyclical, the stock market is cyclical.

"So in general I agree with Bill’s comments," he added. "In fact, more than in general."

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