California budget crisis slams schools

In a closed-door meeting with educators Oct. 28, Governor Schwarzenegger warned that the education budget could be cut $2 billion to $4 billion.

This massive cut is only the latest in the budget problems that have plagued our state recently. The state deficit, contrary to what was projected only a few weeks ago, could amount to as much as $10 billion.

The proposed cut to education is one of many desperate measures the governor is proposing to fill the gap. Schwarzenegger has always been very supportive of the state’s education systems, but he appears to have little choice. He is also proposing measures such as a state-wide increase in sales tax.

Aside from the budget slashing itself, however, another problem is the timing of the cuts. While it might be a large problem to cut so much money out of a school budget, trying to cut that money out in the middle of the year is even harder.

However, the news may not be all bad. In a budget update on Oct. 30, Kathy Blackwood, District Chief Financial Officer, discussed the SMCCCD’s budget situation at the present and how it would respond to any cuts that filtered down from the state level.

Of the entire cut to education, Prop. 98 – which covers grades K through 14 – gets about half. Of that, only about 10 percent filters through to community colleges. Further, only about two percent of that directly impacts the SMCCCD – meaning that a statewide cut of $3 billion to $10 billion means only about $3 million to $10 million that comes directly away from San Mateo County community colleges.

Further, the deficit was not entirely unexpected.

“When they [the state] passed the budget, they said it was balanced,” Blackwood said. “But we knew it was done with smoke and mirrors, that the legislature could not agree and they put in things that could not come to pass.”

In a more positive light, Blackwood discussed measures that were being taken to address the current deficit, and how the district might respond to any future cuts.

“We probably won’t know for quite a while what the real [deficit] this year is going to be. We’re going to have to start making cuts anyway, because the longer you wait the longer you wait the more you have to cut,” Blackwood said.

The problem is that the deficit is going to be an ongoing problem, and so while one-time cuts may be adequate in the short term, all they will accomplish is to buy time while better, more thought out permanent cuts are made.

In the meantime, the budget committee at Skyline was encouraged to make small changes to save as much money as possible, even simple things such as not having food at meetings and making sure lights are turned off when a room is empty. Also, since cutting education is widely regarded as cutting your future and potential growth, the impact has already been softened.

“In the meeting with the representatives of education and Schwarzenegger they were talking about $10 billion, but they came out of that saying education’s share was $2 billion to $4 billion instead of up to even $5 billion,” Blackwood said. “We’re already not going to take as big a hit.”

The district is definitely in for some tight times. Some harsh cuts might be necessary, especially with the crisis coming mid-year, but the committee seemed confident that they would be able to pull through.