ALAMEDA — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger shirked his duty as a leader when he proposed across-the-board cuts as a way to bridge the state budget deficit, according to California's top educator.

"It's an abdication of the governor's responsibility to set priorities," state School Superintendent Jack O'Connell said Friday during a visit to the offices of the Alameda Unified School District.

O'Connell visited Alameda to meet some of the high school students who abruptly walked out of class Wednesday to protest planned cuts.

The deficit, originally estimated at $14.5 billion, then $16 billion, now stands at $8 billion

following recent actions by the governor and the Legislature.

Nevertheless, schools are being asked to absorb a flat 10 percent cut, with some education officials now estimating that kindergarten through 12th-grade spending could drop by $5 billion.

Instead of undermining school funding with a "penny wise, pound foolish" proposal, Schwarzenegger should pick and choose what gets state money, O'Connell said.

"This budget is one-sided," O'Connell said. "This budget is exclusively cuts."

The anticipated loss of funding has sent school district leaders up and down the state scrambling to balance their books, with more than 500 teachers and administrators in San Francisco alone receiving preliminary layoff notices Friday.


Advertisement

In Alameda, hundreds of students took part in Wednesday's walkout, demonstrating outside the district's main office against the school board's decision to cut money for sports, music and other programs to help offset a $4.5 million deficit.

"Alameda is being hit really, really hard,"said Ian Merrifield, student body president at Encinal High School. "What we need to do is come together to show Sacramento that we don't accept this."

Nichole Lopez, an Alameda High School student, said California's economy remains among the world's strongest — and certainly robust enough to fund public schools.

"I don't understand when we have all this money and it's not focused on education," Lopez told O'Connell.

Also Friday, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame and KNBR 680 pledged a $30,000 challenge grant to support the Alameda sports program, which lost about $200,000 due to the cuts.

Dontrelle Willis, an alumni of Encinal High School who now pitches for the Detroit Tigers, appeared on the radio station Friday, asking listeners to donate money to the district.

The Alameda Education Foundation is creating a fund for the money that will be equitably distributed between Alameda and Encinal high schools, boys and girls sports. The foundation wants to make sure both schools get the funding, said Brooke Briggance, foundation executive director.

"We're here to support all the athletes," Briggance said. "Obviously there is a lot of support out there for athletics in Alameda and people have been looking for a way to support those programs."

While she was excited about the support to save programs targeted this year, Briggance said the public must remember that the district will have to consider more cuts next year.

"It's very important for us to remember the governor is cutting $4.5 million in one year even though the school district has a two-year plan for those budget reductions, and in year two they are going to be facing school closures," she said. "I would hate for people to get all excited about saving athletics and forget there will be no athletics if we have to close schools."

Along with cuts, the Alameda school board voted this week to put an emergency $120 parcel tax on the June ballot to help generate cash.

If voters back the plan, the tax would augment the $189 levy Alameda homeowners already pay annually for local schools.

O'Connell said he supports the proposed tax, which would expire in 2012.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger hinted that he may also support raising taxes as a way to bridge the state shortfall and prevent education cuts.

He told reporters that "everything is one the table" when he visited Oakland on Friday to announce $394 million in funding for transit projects statewide. 

O'Connell's visit to Alameda comes in the wake of district leaders trimming $7.7 million from their budget over the past seven years, including cuts as a result of an enrollment drop.

Meanwhile, the state deadline for sending lay-off notices to teachers is next Saturday.

Contact Peter Hegarty at phegarty@bayareanewsgroup.com or 510-748-1654.