Stanislaus County schools may lose millions more

When Gov. Schwarzenegger unveiled his 2010-11 budget proposal, he assured it "protects education," but a new analysis warns it actually would slice $30.3 million from Stanislaus County school funding.

The nonprofit California Budget Project, a "liberal-leaning" group that analyzes government fiscal policies, released estimates Tuesday showing how much funding each California school district will lose if the governor gets his way.

"The education communities are acutely aware of the proposals on the table ... but we want to make the public aware," said Jean Ross, the group's executive director. "This report is trying to bring (the proposed budget cuts) home to a school site near you."

Modesto City Schools, for instance, expects to cut $25 million from next year's budget. That's nearly 10 percent. Hundreds of layoff notices have been sent out, class sizes will rise and programming is at risk.

But the California Budget Project estimates the district will need to slash $5 million more from its high schools and $4.5 million from its elementary schools.

The projections for additional cuts are equally frightening for other districts in Stanislaus County: $4.1 million in Turlock, $3.3 million in Ceres, $2.3 million in the Sylvan district and $1.6 million in Oakdale.

California's fiscal woes have caused chaos for every public agency because the prolonged recession has reduced income, sales, property and business taxes collected by government.

In presenting his proposed budget in January, Schwarzenegger had to find ways to close a $19.9 billion funding gap.

"My budget proposal protects education," Schwarzenegger said at the time. The governor's Web site still contends his "2010-11 budget maintains funding for education at the same level year over year."

The California Budget Project doesn't see it that way. It calculated Schwarzenegger's plan would reduce school district and county office of education apportionments and cost-of-living adjustments by 4.1 percent, or an average of $308 per student.

"We seriously question what this means for schools' ability to provide a quality education for all California children," Ross said.

California's public schools serve 6.3 million students in 1,043 school districts.

Stanislaus County's schools are being hit particularly hard by budget problems because most of them have declining enrollment. Because schools are funded based on the number of students, fewer students means less money.

Donald Gatti, Stanislaus County's top school finance official, said Tuesday he was not sure the California Budget Project's analysis is correct. He said the estimate that Stanislaus schools could lose $30.3 million sounded too high.

"I'm guessing they threw everything and the kitchen sink in (to the estimate)," Gatti said. But he agreed the governor's proposed budget "absolutely would reduce school funding."

This school year, for example, the state reduced per-student funding by $252, which Gatti said was supposed to be restored in next year's budget. The governor, however, proposes repeating that reduction and trimming more funding based on the declining cost of living.

When the state cut 2009-10 school funding last summer, federal stimulus funds bailed out school districts, enabling most of them to dodge serious budget cuts and layoffs, Gatti explained.

No federal bailout is expected this time, so districts are faced with difficult choices.

Modesto City Schools, for example, is considering layoffs and pay cuts, which are being negotiated with its employee unions. The district has lost more than 3,500 students since 2002. It is deficit spending this year, dipping into reserves to spare programs and avoid teacher layoffs.

Ross said school cuts statewide wouldn't be so drastic if lawmakers would "close recently enacted corporate tax loopholes." She said she is "hopeful there will be a sizable amount of federal money" added to the state budget.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.