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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

State Budget Crisis: Education Braces for Worst

In a landmark move, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently proposed slashing education funding in the state by $5.6 billion in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. If enacted, the budget cuts would result in K-12 school districts losing $460 million this year and $4.4 billion next year according to the LAUSD. Community colleges would lose $40 million this year and $484 million next year. The California State University system would lose about $313 million next fiscal year, while the University of California system would lose $332 million. The cuts, said to be the largest proposed for education in the state, are intended to compensate for a $14.5 billion budget shortfall. The responses to the cuts in the San Fernando Valley have been varied. While there is concern about how they might affect education programs and services offered locally, many education officials say it’s too early to go into panic mode and that they are now strategizing as how to best absorb the impact of the cuts. California State University, Northridge, has already ended some programs in light of the budget restrictions. The college recently announced that its Family Business Center was going on hiatus. Also, CSUN’s graduate program in genetic counseling is not accepting students for next year. The cuts “really might kill it. It’s really too bad,” said Aida Metzenberg, program director and biology professor. There are 14 students enrolled in the program this year. Next year, there will be nine. Then all of the students will have graduated. If the program, which was established in fall 1994, closes, the effects will ripple beyond the CSUN campus. “The program not only involves CSUN faculty but medical genetic counselors from around L.A.,” Metzenberg said. She added that no similar program exists in the immediate area. “There isn’t a program at UCLA or anywhere near here,” Metzenberg said. “The nearest is UC Irvine.” Paul Browning, a CSU Chancellor’s Office spokesman, discussed what else CSUN might have to sacrifice in light of the budget cuts. “Basically, things like services can be cut. Class sections could be cut, curriculums could be cut, part-time faculty could be,” he said. Moreover, students involved in work-study programs, could be laid off. Browning said that it’s at the discretion of each university to decide how they want to implement the cuts. If a school ruled out layoffs, it might decide to cut back on office products, computers and other items typically purchased each school year. To prepare for the cuts CSU schools moved up the deadlines for which prospective students can apply for admission. CSUN, for instance, moved its deadline up to Feb. 1. “We expect approximately 10,000 students to come in the 08-09 year,” Browning explained of the earlier deadline. “We couldn’t accept that many students.” To boot, students will likely have to pay 10 percent more in fees because of the cuts. Robert Garber and Tyree Wieder, the presidents of Pierce College and Los Angeles Valley College, respectively, discussed how they are grappling with the proposed budget cuts. “We’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode,” Wieder said. “In 07-08, we’ve been able to cover the reductions request to send dollars back to the state level, and we’ve been able to cover those in several different ways, by just not funding things or expenses that we had not used up to this date.” Garber said that he does not want the cuts to affect the quality of the programs and services offered by Pierce College. “I don’t want to see any reduction in our course offerings, limitations in the services we provide to students,” he said. “The strength of the college continues on our ability to continue to offer classes and provide the educational opportunities that they want and need.” Garber said that, even in light of severe budget reductions, Pierce is in a fortunate situation. “We’ve been able to expand our curriculum and increase our enrollment,” he said. “Because we’ve been growing, we’ve been able to have a healthy budget, and I hope there’s room in the budget to absorb some of the cuts and minimize the impacts on our students and our programs.” Garber called the possibility of layoffs of part-time faculty, the most vulnerable group in such a situation, unlikely. “That’s really not going to happen unless things get significantly more depleted than what we’ve got,” he said. Garber also speculated as to how budget cuts at Pierce could affect the surrounding community. “It’s really hard to read the relationship between the economy around us and the college per se,” he said. “Although, if we end up in a position where we’re not offering as many classes, it could potentially lead to the college not purchasing equipment, supplies or services that we would ordinarily purchase.” Los Angeles Unified School District institutions might be the most adversely affected by the budget cuts. If enacted, LAUSD foresees having to close schools or make massive layoffs. Action groups composed of district officials and community stakeholders have already formed to counteract the cuts. “The specific decision about what’s to be cut are still ahead of us,” LAUSD Deputy Chief Financial Officer Roger Rasmussen stressed. “It’s impossible to make reductions of this magnitude without having an impact on a whole lot of program areas. I don’t think we’re going to close 22 schools. We’re not going to close any high schools, and I hope we’re not going to lay off 5,000 employees.” Rasmussen did say that it does seem likely that some staff positions will be cut. There’s also the potential for pay reductions. “We hope we’re not forced into pay reductions, but that’s certainly one of the possible ways to balance the budget,” Rasmussen said. In the early 1990s, the last time the district faced budget cuts of this magnitude, staff pay was reduced. “I’m not saying that it’s going to happen this time,” Rasmussen said. “When we look at the universe of options that are available, there aren’t many things you can do to reduce employee pay, employee benefits. Those are all subject to negotiation with our unions, so it’s a long way from being initialized.” To prevent such a drastic measure, Rasmussen said that LAUSD is exploring to increase revenues via billboard placement and property leasing, among other ideas. As for the action groups that have been formed, “We’re reaching out to different constituencies and people with similar issues, so we can speak with a unified voice,” Rasmussen said. “When we approach people about this we want to approach them as a unified community of interests, which would include other districts, working with our parents because their children are going to be most affected by this, and working with our employee union because they also have a lot at stake.” The Budget Cuts: Effects on LAUSD The Governor’s proposed budget cuts will likely result in LAUSD increasing class sizes and reducing per-student spending. California has ranked below the U.S. average in K-12 per-student spending for the last decade. A $460 million budget cut is equivalent to closing 22 LAUSD high schools, closing all LAUSD schools and offices for 12 days, reducing 5,750 employees from a workforce of 82,000, enacting an 8 percent pay cut for all employees or cutting the cost of employee health benefits by more than half. A $231 million cut to unrestricted LAUSD revenues would mean 1,630 fewer teachers, 248 fewer office and clerical workers, 177 fewer custodians and gardeners, 113 fewer nurses, counselors, etc., 82 fewer principals or assistant principals and 42 fewer school safety workers. Source: LAUSD

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