Discussion of the 2012-2013 budget began Tuesday night with trepidation as board members examined the ramifications of an uncertain state budget.
Schools won’t know until November what their 2012-2013 funding is—pending the outcome of a $7 billion tax initiative on the November ballot, about $2 billion of which would go to education—but are expected to finalize school year budgets by June.
So how do district officials plan in the meantime?
“All we can do is plan on the numbers we’ve been given,” said Superintendent Maggie MacIsaac. “Even in that initiative passes, we still very well might be making cuts to education.”
MacIsaac said schools are being asked to plan on flat funding, or the same as the previous year, assuming the tax measure passes. If it fails, cuts of $370 per student will continue and the state will maintain deferrals on funds it owes school districts. Luckily, the passage of a $76 parcel tax in November for Burlingame will help the cash flow hurt by deferrals.
Since the 2008-2009 school year, state funding for education has been reduced 16 percent, resulting in a loss of approximately $35 billion, or about $1.2 million per year for Burlingame. MacIsaac said the last time California schools were fully funded was when current 50-year-olds graduated high school.
“This is criminal,” said Board Trustee Greg Land. “I’m just looking at this getting depressed.”
Burlingame could also loose money due to a plan for weighted student funding. The amount the state gives schools per student will be weighed based on categorical needs, such as if the student is low-income, an English language learner or below proficient levels. However, in districts like Burlingame where many categorical students fall into more than one category—for instance, an English language learner below proficiency—the student will only be counted once.
MacIsaac said the weighted student model is dangerous for Burlingame and sends the wrong message if funding will drop away once students are proficient.
“If you have a system where you get money for students who are second language learners, the motivation is in the wrong direction,” she said.
Another issue the budget brings up is uncertain plans for transitional kindergarten, a program established under Senate Bill 1381.
The bill adjusts the kindergarten start date, mandating children turn 5 years old by Nov. 1 for the 2012-2013 school year, then Oct. 1 for the 2013-2014 school year and finally Sept. 1 for the 2014-2015 year. As part of that adjustment, a transitional kindergarten program was introduced for students who would otherwise begin kindergarten in the 2012-2013 school year, but now must wait under the bill.
Without state funding, the program will no longer be required, but the district will be forced to decide whether to cut funding from other programs for transitional kindergarten or to leave a whole group of students on their own for the year.
MacIsaac said the state is mandated to pay once students turn 5, so there is a chance transitional kindergarten could continue, just without secure funding for the first couple of months before childrens' birthdays.
In the next couple of months, the budget planning process for the 2012-2013 school year must continue with or without a secure notion of state funding. District officials will have to plan with the limited funds they know they have and support from organizations like the Burlingame Community Education Foundation.
“I think it would behoove us to stop talking about money we think we’re going to get from the state,” said Board Trustee Liz Gindraux. “Because it’s not going to happen.”