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Saturday, September 20, 2008

State Budget Bad News For Davis Schools?

At first glance one might believe that passing the state budget without the cuts to education that the Governor originally proposed would be good news for schools around the state.

However, at the school board meeting on Thursday night, Superintendent James Hammond reported that the district's budget outlook remains uncertain and even gloomy.

The first problem is that the budget contains within it the authority for the governor to make midyear budget cuts. That was one of the sticking points for the Governor and it makes it very difficult for school districts to plan. Imagine the expectation of state money and to have that state money cut in the middle of a school year. Suddenly the district could be scrambling around for money that it had planned on having. Districts like Davis have almost no margin for error. Across the state, school districts are very concerned about this possibility.

School Board member Richard Harris who also works as a lobbyist in the state Capitol said that he thinks the district is probably worse off now than before the budget was adopted.

The second problem is that there will be little or no cost-of-living adjustments for school districts from the state. Basically that means that while inflation is occurring, the state is not adjusting the amount of money which is equivalent to a budget cut along the rate of inflation in a given district.

The worst problem by far is that the state budget does not address the state's own structural budget deficit. It merely punts the problem until next year's budget. And making matters even worse, the economic condition in the state does not appear to be improving any. Thus the state budget picture looks worse next year than it was this year.

For a district like Davis, that makes it even more imperative that the local voters pass the parcel to enable the school district to continue to operate at current levels. The good news for a district like Davis that resident have been generous in the past with support for the schools in the form of parcel taxes and bond measures.

However, many districts across the state are not so fortunate. School dodged a large bullet when the May revised budget forecast put back a lot of the money that the Governor was threatening to take out in January. The budget largely mirrored the May revise. However, with the prospect for midyear cuts and a worse budget forecast looming for next year, schools are hardly out of the woods. Those districts and students who are most vulnerable will take the brunt of this.

While from the standpoint of many, having a state budget passed was a good thing. At the end of the day, they did not resolve any of the tough issues. As a result, school districts will once again have to look for ways to cut money without cutting teachers and programs, a prospect that will become more and more difficult as time goes on. Luckily for Davis, the voters have the opportunity this fall to bypass many of those problems by approving a modest $120 per year increase in the parcel tax that will enable the Davis schools to continue to function at their present high level.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting