Local School District Saved From Drastic Cuts

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After approving and amending dozens of budgets while awaiting a final California state budget, the Berkeley Unified School District released new numbers Wednesday - based on the state budget passed Oct. 8 - showing the district will not be forced to make the harsh cuts it had expected in the upcoming years.

District officials had calculated, based on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's May budget revision, the district's spending deficit for this year would total $3.16 million, but an unexpected $2.4 million more from the state brings the district much closer to a balanced budget than in previous years.

Although this is favorable change, the district is not planning to make immediate or drastic changes to the existing budget because of possible cuts to these funds, either in January when the new governor takes office or in next year's budget.

Javetta Cleveland, district deputy superintendent, said at the district Board of Education meeting Wednesday that since the state borrowed cash from the upcoming fiscal year to address the budget gap this year, those funds allocated to the district will probably shrink next year.

In fact, 24 percent of the money allocated to the district from the state was deferred until next year, so the district will not receive $6.7 million of its funds until July. Across the state, a total of $1.7 billion has been deferred from school districts.

Cleveland said uncertainty surrounding the state budget makes it difficult to determine the exact impact on the district.

According to Superintendent Bill Huyett at the Wednesday meeting, the district will decide during the next two weeks which cut programs will receive increased funding, with the board set to vote on the changes at its Nov. 10 meeting.

"There are some reductions we think we should bring back - summer school, textbooks," Huyett said. "We cut some things very deeply that are really problematic for us to provide the quality instruction that we need to make the progress we are making."

The district was anticipating cuts of at least $5 million for the upcoming school year, but based on the new numbers, the district will not face such a large reduction and instead expects to have a deficit of $1 million for each of the next two years.

Cleveland said if there are mid-year cutbacks when a new governor takes office in January, then the district will have to return to "big number" cuts.

The district's child care programs in particular underwent significant downsizing this year because funding for these programs was slashed at the state level in the May revision.

The district will reopen these programs because the state Legislature's budget restored funding to them. However, the district may be impacted by Schwarzenegger's $256 million line-item veto of funding for a program that provides free child care for families that are transitioning off welfare.

District officials said these families are part of Stage 3 of CalWORKs, a program that provides free child care while families are on welfare and for up to 24 months after.

Around 1,500 families are part of this program in Alameda County, according to Beatriz Levya-Cutler, district Board of Education vice president.

Huyett said the district has not yet looked into the effect the veto will have on the district specifically, but will do so in the upcoming weeks.


Soumya Karlamangla is the lead local schools reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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