District presents budget quandary at local meeting

By Chris BLUME

The Glendale Unified School District held a meeting this week at Crescenta Valley High School to discuss the budget crisis that will affect the education of children in the district.

In the state of California, 40% of the state’s budget is spent on education. Due to an anemic economy the governor and the state legislature have been forced to save more and more money and the school budget has not been spared. As things stand right now, the district projects a $50 million deficit for the 2012-2013 school year. Some cost saving measures, such as eliminating class size reduction, can and will be put into effect by a decision of the board of education. Other decisions, like teachers’ salaries and benefits, which make up 91% of the unrestricted budget, cannot be changed without negotiating with the teachers union. Unfortunately, negotiations have been going so poorly the district has declared an impasse, which means it doesn’t think the negotiations are going to end anytime soon. This allows them to request a mediator from the state to help expedite matters, an option that the teachers union opposes.

Though the $50 million budget deficit is projected for the year 2012-13, the issue must be addressed now because, unlike the federal or state government, the district cannot have a deficit. The state requires a projected budget to be submitted that includes the 2012-13 school year and the district must show that it can be fiscally solvent for that year. If solvency can’t be achieved, then the state (which faces no such requirement) will send a trustee to take over the district and make unilateral decisions to cut costs.

The problem many feel is that such a trustee would be solely interested in cutting costs and would not be looking out for the students’ welfare.

It isn’t only the state that affects the budget. The school district pays 100% of its employees’ health and benefits costs. Every year, the rate per employee has gone up between 10% and 12% further cutting into the unrestricted budget, administrators said.

There is another budget called the restricted budget. This is money that the state and federal government have given the district for specific purposes, like textbook renewal, building maintenance and special education. The district has been given permission to move some of the money from the restricted budget to the unrestricted budget, namely from allocations for textbooks and building maintenance. Unfortunately, current projections have already taken this money into account.

In a letter from the teachers union that was distributed at Monday night’s meeting, the union called for the district to move the maximum amount of money allowed by the state into the unrestricted budget.

However, there are a few options open to the district that do not need to be negotiated. One of these is the elimination of class size reduction, a move that officials say is a painful one. This would bring the average kindergarten through grade three class size up to 30 students per teacher, eliminating the need for about a 100 teachers. The district is hoping teachers opt for early retirement. Since many elementary school teachers have secondary credentials, K-3 teachers can replace retired secondary teachers. Additionally, the district has made administrative cuts and will make several more.

There are also several options that the district has which cannot be exercised until a consensus is reached with the teachers union. These options would include shortening the school year and adjusting teachers’ health and benefits plans. While the teachers union has made several concessions during the negotiations, the district believes it is still not enough.

During the question and answer portion of Monday’s meeting, one attendee asked why a parcel tax hadn’t been brought up. District officials noted that nearby districts have tried to get a parcel tax passed – which need a two thirds vote – and had been unsuccessful, though they were fiscally in worse shape than Glendale’s current state. The district concluded that it wouldn’t be able to get a parcel tax passed unless the budget crisis worsened.

When another attendee asked what pay cuts district management would be taking, though many of those members in attendance hedged that question, board of education president Mary Boger proudly promised the crowd, “If any employee in this district takes a reduction, I will take the same reduction,” to which she received resounding applause.

For anyone who may have missed Monday’s meeting, another is being held tonight, March 4, at Hoover High School in the auditorium at 7 p.m.

For more information about parcel taxes, you can go to www.sosglendale.org.