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Districts face worst-case scenarios

With vote on possible tax extension unlikely, schools are poised to take a huge hit.

April 01, 2011|By Megan O┬┐Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com

Budget projections at public school districts, already a guessing game, were scrambled once again this week following Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to suspended negotiations with Republican legislators. The breakdown in negotiations, which would have provided for a June referendum to allow California voters to decide whether to extending current tax rates, transformed the districts’ worst-case scenarios into impending reality.

With state funding cuts potentially reaching twice the totals suggested by earlier projections when June tax extensions were still possible, school officials say they are preparing for drastic changes in the way they approach public education.

Gary Mortimer, a financial consultant with Burbank Unified, said the change could severely challenge educators.

“Burbank has been able to be really responsive to the needs of children and offer a very good education,” said Mortimer, himself a product of Burbank schools. “I think with the budget cuts looming like they could, it is going to have an effect on the district’s ability to maintain a high level of education.”

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Burbank and Glendale school officials have been playing budgetary hopscotch for months, cutting millions of dollars in expenditures in an effort to balance finances while remaining uncertain about where state funding levels will land.

And with the tax extension apparently off the table until the November election — if it at all — district officials said they could see 2011-12 state funding reduced by as much as $800 a student, twice that of earlier projections. Current per-student funding is approximately $5200 annually. In Burbank, the change would translate to about $11 million in lost revenue, while in Glendale, the loss would total $20 million.

“There are some people who say it is going to get to that level,” said Eva Lueck, chief financial and business officer with Glendale Unified. “Other people are saying it will come in around $500 to $600 [per student].

“We are truly not sure. At this point and time, there is not a lot for us to do. We can consider what we have and make lists, but we really need information to know what our target is.”

Officials said they will spend the next several weeks collecting data and waiting for cues from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office and from School Services of California, a private firm that advises the state on education issues.

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