Berkeley School Board Restores Limited Cuts to District Budget

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The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education voted to reverse just over a quarter of a million dollars in cuts Wednesday based on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's October budget, which awarded school districts across California an unexpected level of funding.

The board members' unanimous decision to restore cuts totaling $271,000 at this week's board meeting comes after the state budget, passed Oct. 8, provided about $1.5 billion more to districts throughout the state - more than Schwarzenegger's May budget revision - which translates to about $2.4 million more for the district.

The May revision's reduction in education funding spurred drastic cuts in the district's June budget, which was approved with cuts totaling $3.16 million.

Although the district should now receive over $2 million from the state - bringing the district the closest to a balanced budget than it has been in the past few years - the funding that was restored is only 8 percent of what was cut in June.

District officials said they are unsure of how to respond to the funds provided by the state in its October budget because of the possibility of midyear cuts this year and in 2011.

"I'm hoping we can keep (the money)," said district Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland. "But since the state borrowed cash from fiscal year 2011-12 to address the budget gap, the likelihood of a budget cut happening next year is pretty high."

The $271,000 in cuts the district restored includes $75,000 for instructional materials like textbooks and $60,000 for athletic transportation.

"We did limit ourselves because we know there could be bad news coming in," said district Superintendent Bill Huyett.

In addition to the approximately $2 million increase in district general fund revenue, the state's October budget also reversed cuts to child care that would have stripped the district's programs of $4.5 million.

The district had to pass its budget in June and the final state budget was not released until after the beginning of the school year, so the district was forced to close programs based on the May revision cuts while awaiting the passage of the final budget.

In August, the district had to make a 75 percent reduction to its low-income after-school program, Berkeley's Excellent Academic Road to Success, which is funded by the state. The program went from serving 300 to 70 students in Berkeley.

Also, the district's preschool program suffered cuts from the budget because it relies on funds from BEARS.

Now that preschool and child care are again funded by the state, five classes in the program will re-open and one preschool class resume serving students, according to Huyett.

Based on recent calculations, district officials estimate that the spending deficits for the upcoming two years will be about $1 million a year, which is a drastic change from the over $5 million estimate that they had expected for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years. The district anticipates a fund balance of $600,000 at the end of the 2012-13 academic year, which is higher than the reserve level required by the state.

"This helps our budget, obviously, fiscally, and the significant cuts that we were looking at for next year kind of pushes it off one more year," Huyett said.

He said the restored cuts were only those of the utmost importance because not only can the next governor, Jerry Brown, make midyear cuts, but the October budget also deferred $1.7 billion of the money it awarded to school districts to next year.

"It's really wonderful being able to add a little more money back into the budget," said recently re-elected board president Karen Hemphill. "Hopefully it stays back in the budget."


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

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