“Whether big or small, everything is up in the air,” said William Draa, superintendent of the rural Banta School District. “Districts will have to do a lot of priority thinking.”
In the Tracy area, most of the school districts are predicting budget cuts and program losses if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative fails in November.
On Thursday, March 14, Brown tried to further promote his initiative by creating a united front with Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and the Restoring California Coalition, which includes the California Federation of Teachers.
According to a statement issued by the governor’s office, the new initiative lowers the proposed sales tax increase from a half-cent to a quarter-cent, with an expiration date of 2016. The new plan would also raise income taxes 2 percent for joint tax filers making more than $600,000 a year and institute a 3 percent income tax increase on those earning more than $1 million a year, with both tax hikes lasting through 2018.
“This united effort makes victory more likely and will go a long way toward balancing our budget and protecting our schools, universities and public safety,” Brown wrote.
Many school district officials have said the tax initiative is critical to keeping programs intact, but voter unpredictability makes the outcome difficult to predict.
“Can’t base a budget without anything concrete,” Draa said. “Just have to prepare — this is the world we have been living in for the last two to three years.”
One funding question for Banta is transportation. Because it is difficult for parents to take children to school in rural districts, officials push to have buses available, Draa said, though he did not know whether the money would be available.
Children attending Lammersville and Jefferson elementary schools seem to face a slightly brighter budget future, but for different reasons.
In Lammersville Unified School District, continued growth of the district and Mountain House, its major community, creates a financial upswing. Alvina Keyser, director of business services, said each of the six to 14 building permits pulled each week mean one to four more children in Mountain House schools.
“We’re going to be fine, at least for the next two years out,” Keyser said. “As we’ve been going, we’ve been getting through each year one year at a time.”
Another way Lammersville has remained stable is through preventative cuts made by the board, such as the elimination of after-school programs and summer school. The district has also chosen to leave some vacant positions unfilled.
In the Jefferson Elementary School District, things have been hard, but manageable, officials said. Things got harder Monday, March 12, however, when the district was forced to give six teachers layoff notices.
“Our board has made a lot of good choices and using reserves strategically,” Chief Business Officer Mindy Maxedon said. “We’ve been able to survive using our reserves.”
Maxedon said Jefferson had kept intact programs such as physical education and art and appeared financially set through the 2012-13 fiscal year. The district would have to begin planning budget reductions if the tax initiatives failed in November, though, she said.
Officials of the largest school district in the Tracy area, Tracy Unified School District, are also unsure of the future.
On Tuesday, March 13, Tracy Unified’s assistant superintendent for business services, Casey Goodall, told his school board, “Everything is a big guess.”
If the tax initiatives passed, Goodall said Tracy Unified would be sustained through 2015-16. But that’s subject to the governor’s May revise, he said, which would provide more updates to the state budget picture.
“It behooves us to see the initiative pass,” said Superintendent James Franco.
Tracy Education Association President John Anderson told the board everyone needed to encourage the Legislature to support education, saying he couldn’t see how those concerned about education could not support the tax plan.