State Budget Cuts Bring Lean Year

After weeks of delay, political wrangling and a partisan stalemate, a new state budget has finally been adopted. Despite more state cuts in education, the Long Beach Unified School District hopes to survive the new school year without major damage to classroom instruction. One of the key reasons that may be possible is because the district has already achieved more than $40 million in budget savings during the past few years. "Our classified hiring freeze and other belt-tightening measures along the way have been extremely helpful in averting more serious cuts and layoffs," said Superintendent Chris Steinhauser. "Thanks to careful planning, we’re in somewhat better fiscal condition than many other large urban school districts. But we’re not out of the woods yet. The bad news is that even with borrowing and budget cuts the state still faces a massive $10 billion deficit for 2004-05." One fact is certain: costs here will exceed revenue this year. The only question is how much. To make ends meet, the district may be forced to use up to half of its reserves this year. The recently approved state budget cuts affect funding for summer school, textbooks, deferred maintenance and several state categorical programs. School districts also face skyrocketing health care costs and workers’ compensation costs which are not funded by the state. The bottom line: California school districts must survive this fiscal year with less than a zero cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Local school district budgets must address a negative state revenue limit adjustment of minus 1.2 percent. This state funding cut amounts to about $6 million for the Long Beach Unified School District. To make matters worse, the district expects another $5 million budget shortfall this year as a result of higher workers’ compensation and health care costs. These unfunded costs will eat up millions in reserves. By using reserves and controlling costs, the district hopes to protect classroom instruction, reduced class size and continue to avert layoffs--real cuts now facing other California school districts. The district expects to lose about 15 percent of its state-funded school improvement program for local schools. Some of these state categorical funds are used by schools to employ classroom teacher aides. In addition, the recent $1.3 million cut in state textbook funding means that there will be sufficient state money to buy new language arts textbooks only for middle schools this year. "The challenge for us during these lean times is to preserve classroom instruction, to adhere strictly to staffing ratios, to avoid spending beyond revenue whenever possible and to live within our means," said Steinhauser. "At the same time, we’re attempting to do more with less. Our goal is to have all of our schools meet or exceed their Academic Performance Index (API) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. "This will be a very challenging year. Fortunately, we have shown that we can improve student achievement even during lean times."