SACRAMENTO -- The governor's promise to spare K-12 education from cuts in his budget places a heavy burden on schools because it is contingent on a tax extension that isn't guaranteed.
"Schools have borne the brunt of spending reductions in recent years," Gov. Jerry Brown said in releasing his budget Monday. "So, this budget maintains funding at the same level as the current year."
While some education officials felt a sense of relief from further cuts, others said they would have to prepare for cuts anyway, because they are required to issue pink slips to teachers by March 15, in case voters reject the tax extensions. The governor's plan would place the tax extension before voters in June.
"The governor made good on his word to make tough decisions," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement. "Unfortunately, this budget extends the financial emergency facing California's schools."
Torlakson declared schools in a state of financial emergency last week because of nearly $18 billion in cuts they have endured during the past several years. If voters reject the tax extension, many school districts will have to make cuts they can't afford.
"We can't budget on the hopes and dreams that people are going to pass a tax increase," said Gary Eberhart, president of the Mt. Diablo school board in Contra Costa County.
In the last two years, an infusion of one-time federal funds has minimized the impact of cuts on the state's public schools. Without that money, districts will feel the squeeze, even if the state keeps its education spending at current levels, said Ron Bennett, president and CEO of School Services of California, which provides financial consulting services to districts.
Bennett said he anticipates another round of layoff notices and continued requests for concessions from school employee unions in the year ahead. If voters don't approve the tax extension, he said, it could mean a $2.2 billion hit to education.
Rick La Plante, spokesman for the New Haven school district in Union City, said officials there welcomed the governor's budget proposal, but that the district still is facing a hefty shortfall next year. New Haven's budget has fallen from $110 million to $99 million over the past three years.
"We're very grateful that the proposal doesn't make a bad situation worse but it's still not a good situation," La Plante said.
Troy Flint, a spokesman for the Oakland school district, said school officials "don't relish education being used as a pawn in the ongoing budget battles." But, he said they are relieved the governor is trying to protect education from further cuts.
"We think it's an important show of support from the governor's office, which testifies to the importance of education to California's future," Flint said.
Bennett said the 2011-12 budget appears to restore AB 3632 mental health funding for students, but it was unclear whether funding through June vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was included.