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Budget Squeezes Local Schools

Posted: January 31, 2008 2:40 a.m.
Updated: April 2, 2008 2:02 a.m.
The 2008-09 state budget hasn't yet passed the Legislature, but Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed budget cuts, which include more than $4 billion slashed from education, have already affected local school districts.

Superintendents and business administrators from Santa Clarita school districts spent part of last week in a workshop wrestling with ways to cut their budgets and brainstorming methods for lobbying state legislators.
"We went over the budget cuts and came up with ideas to lobby the legislators to give us more flexibility to spend the money we have, and to let the legislators know that we won't be able to survive without major detriment to our classrooms," said Sue Guthrie, chief financial officer for the William S. Hart Union High School District.
Hart district Superintendent Jaime Castellanos sent an e-mail to all district employees Friday asking that everyone work together during this "challenging period."
"In the coming days, we will be working closely with our staff and with our employee associations to determine how budget reductions can be implemented in a fair and equitable manner," Castellanos' e-mail read. "Our paramount goal, of course, will be to maintain the soundness of our academic program by identifying cuts that will least impact the integrity of our academy program."
The Hart district's proposed budget, which had already been turned in to the county when Schwarzenegger proposed the cuts, included a 2 percent salary increase for all employees. The county has sent back the proposed budget with the request that it be revised. The budget must now include sufficient reductions to meet the proposed new funding levels.
"Whenever you're proposing a salary increase, you have to turn in forms that show you can maintain that increase for that year as well as the next two years," Guthrie said. "Before the governor's proposals, (the budget) would have gone through just fine."
The county asked that the budget be revised based on the assumption that the governor's proposed budget passes the Legislature, Guthrie said.
"So consequently, the raises that we all agreed to we now cannot afford due to these assumptions. So that's all up in the air now," Guthrie said.
While the superintendent's e-mail states that the district will be working on making cuts "in the coming days," Leslie Littman, president of the Hart District Teachers Association, said it will probably take the next few weeks to determine budget reductions.
"My hope for this budget crisis would be that the state budget cuts stay away from public education," Littman said. "That $4 billion shortfall was not caused by our students, and the state shouldn't force our students to pay for it."
Neither Littman nor Guthrie knew whether teaching jobs would be affected by the state budget cuts.
"We don't know until we find out what the actual budget for the next year is," Guthrie said. "We may have to file a qualified report for our second interim, because we're not certain we can meet our financial obligations for the next two years."
Immediate measures include a ban on overtime and no extra help and no staff development conferences unless the conference is free or has already been approved, Guthrie said.
The district's revised budget has to be board-approved and must be turned in to the county by March 15. All Hart district directors, along with the principals of each school, are scheduled to meet Monday to attempt to determine where to cut costs.
"We're going to be throwing ideas around," Guthrie said. " We've come up with stuff but we don't want to cause alarm until we know what's going to happen."
Last week's workshop was offered by Susan Stuart & Associates, a lobbying firm employed by all five local districts.


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