Mammoth schools are bracing for another potential round of budget cuts that could trim as much as 10 percent of the district’s incoming revenue next January, if at least one of two ballot initiatives that would funnel money to the schools are not approved by voters this November.
That would mean a cut of between $370 and $807 per student, for a total hit to the district of about $887,000, according to district Superintendent Rich Boccia. The average spent on each student now is about $7,000 a year.
Boccia was clear that, to him, the state’s priorities are messed up.
“Do you know how much it takes to house an inmate for a year?” he said. “Fifty thousand a year. It takes $7,000 to educate a student. And now even that might be decreased. We built 40 new prisons and not one new University system.”
He’s hoping, but not expecting, that at least one of the ballot initiatives (see p. 14) that are designed funnel more money into the state’s education system will pass. But even then, he said, no one in Sacramento seems to have done enough analysis to know what would really happen to education if they did pass, or if one passed and the other did not, let alone what would happen if neither passed.
“I think they are still thinking through the possible scenarios,” he said.
Boccia just came back from a conference with the rest of the state’s school superintendents earlier this week, where the raft of bad news was put before them like a bad meal.
The state is about $10 billion in the hole right now.
The state, which has had budget deficits as high as $25 billion, has already used money tagged for education to backfill previous budget gaps to the tune of $18 billion. That means about 60 percent of the state’s budget gap has been backfilled by education.
The economic situation in California, while improving slightly, is not getting better quickly.
So what does a school district do?
Mammoth Unified is relatively lucky, as schools go. First, it’s a “Basic Aid” district, meaning it benefits from being able to keep some of the higher property taxes the county takes in. Other areas that don’t have such high property values rely entirely on state and federal funding to take care of their mandate to educate students.
And, when residents voted to support Measure S last year, the money from Measure S offset the $650,000 cut that the state made last year to Mammoth Unified.
But this year, that option is not available if another round of cuts comes. Measure S will continue to backfill that same amount for the next five years, but it cannot accommodate another hit like the one Boccia noted might happen January 2013.
Higher health care costs for the district are coming next year, too. He expects health care costs to increase about 18 percent over the next three years.
At this rate of bad news, the school’s 20 percent reserve won’t last long. With that in mind, the school board recently approved bringing in a consultant, Michelle McCowry, to go through the district’s books item by item. It’s her job, Boccia said, to go through every single place the district spends money.
“We want to dig down and peel back the onion,” he said. The goal is to keep teachers if at all possible and figure out a way to make up the deficit another way and he said the district is turning over every stone trying to find places to save money.
It’s also possible that changes will be forced on the district from the state. One proposal is to drop the number of school days per year from 180 to 165.
While students might rejoice, it’s bad business for America, Boccia said.
“Competitive European countries are at 200 days,” he said. “This is a step backward.”
Another option being pushed by the state is something called the “weighted student formula” which would allocate money to students based on their individual needs, not to districts based on enrollment numbers as is now the case. Again, Boccia said this option has not yet been fully analyzed by the state but his reading of it is that Mammoth students would suffer, not gain, from it.
“At the end of the day, we are requesting that public education be treated fairly,” he said. “At this rate, public education will backfill 90 percent of the state’s budget deficit by next year.”
TWO INITIATIVES THAT MIGHT HELP
Governor Jerry Brown has a proposal to increase the taxes on people making more than $500,000 and to increase the sales tax by .25 percent.
• Raise California’s sales tax to 7.5 percent from 7.25 percent.
• Increase the state income tax on those whose income exceeds $250,000. This increased tax will be in effect for 7 years.
• Those making $1 million or more, who are currently taxed at a marginal rate of 10.3 percent, would instead pay 13.3 percent under this proposal. This would be the highest personal income tax in the country.
• An initiative put forward, and partially funded by, wealthy California resident and attorney Mollie Munger, which would also raise the sales tax, (but the exact amount is not known.) Munger claims her initiative will make sure the money stays in public education, claiming the money from Brown’s initiative could be allocated for other uses. Her initiative is called “Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act.” According to several education websites, there is much pressure for her to withdraw the initiative from the education community, due to fears that both initiatives won’t pass if they are on the ballot (and thus confusing voters).