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Failure of measures may impact schools

Districts worry that if May 19 special election propositions don’t pass, budget cuts could get worse

Posted: April 12, 2009 12:53 a.m.
Updated: April 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
With local school districts facing deep budget cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year, educators are keeping an eye on the ballot propositions upon which voters will decide in the May 19 special election. They worry that failure of the measures, which apparently face an uphill battle in earning voter approval, could result in a new round of education cuts.

“The (state) budget, as it was passed in March, assumes those things pass in May,” Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger said. “It’s not going to put us in any better position. It’s just going to put us in a worse position if it doesn’t pass.”

If the first five measures fail May 19, the state would lose out on $6 billion in revenue, mostly because it would be precluded from borrowing against future lottery revenues. In addition to tackling that financial problem, state leaders also would have to tackle another $8 billion shortfall that has appeared because of deteriorating economic condition, since the budget package was signed in February.

“The reality is that if 1A, tied to 1B, if those two don’t pass ... education (will take) a $9.3 billion hit over the next 18 months,” Sulphur Springs School District Superintendent Robert Nolet said. “The only way that we can avoid a permanent scarring to education in California is for those two to pass.”

If the measures pass, money would make its way to community colleges like College of the Canyons, which has seen a jump in enrollment as people are returning to school to retool their job skills.

“It’s anticipated that community colleges would receive just over a billion dollars of that money,” Eric Harnish, director of external affairs at COC said, adding that the money would be spread out over a five-to-six-year period.

“We’re definitely watching and seeing what happens,” Harnish said.

Failure of the propositions could greatly increase projected budget shortfalls for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

“Right now we have a pretty good idea of what our cuts are,” William S. Hart Union High School District Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said.

Hart district officials estimate a $26  to $27 million shortfall over the next three years.

“My fear, and the fear of all our superintendents in this valley and the state, is if these don’t pass, it could make our cuts worse,” Castellanos said.

Winger, who said the Newhall School District board has yet to take a formal position on the propositions, worries about how the deficit will be plugged.

“If any of it fails, it’s a huge political question,” he said. “It could blow a big hole in the state budget. The question is, what do the governor and the legislature do now? The political question comes down to, who gets hurt?”

The propositions already face an early uphill battle in voter approval.

Anti-tax groups have begun a campaign to defeat the ballot measures, saying the budget package places too much of a burden on taxpayers in a state that already has a reputation for high taxes.

A recent poll shows the propositions in trouble, including the one that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants most — a measure that would implement a state spending cap in exchange for extending the taxes an additional one to two years. Just 39 percent of likely voters support that measure, Proposition 1A, with 46 percent opposed, according to the Public Policy Institute of California survey.

Still, local educators raise concerns about whether funding from the propositions provide long-term benefits or quick solutions for a state in crisis.

“Overall, it is stop-gap measures to meet this budget deficit and it’s not long-range planning,” College of the Canyons Board President Joan MacGregor said. The college board has not taken a stance on the propositions.

“I think it’s going to be an extremely low turnout of voters,” MacGregor added. “If you talk to the average person on the street, they don’t know there’s a May 19 election.”

While California voters likely will become more aware of the forthcoming election in the coming weeks, they still might not hit the polls.

“I don’t think there’s interest,” MacGregor said. “I don’t think (people) are focusing on the overall state budget.”

Even as the propositions face opposition, the California Teachers Association endorses all six propositions.

“Passing these initiatives will help restore critical funding needed for our students, schools and colleges,” David A. Sanchez, president of the 340,000-member association, said in a statement. “Many of these initiatives, especially Propositions 1A and 1B, are dependent on each other and if they fail, the state is back to square one in trying to balance the budget and our schools could face even deeper cuts.”

Taxpayer groups are undeterred by that prospect, saying lawmakers should have solved the budget deficit without putting so much of the cost on average Californians. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association estimates the budget package will cost a family of four an additional $1,100 a year, largely canceling any benefit Californians will receive from the federal tax cuts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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