Sonoma County educators are greeting Gov. Jerry Brown's budget plan to infuse billions more dollars into education spending as a sea change after years of dramatic cuts to California public schools.
But those administrators are remaining cautious about what the state spending plan ultimately will look like after lawmakers weigh in on the deal.
"I think it's way too early to know what it means," said Doug Bower, associate superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools, Sonoma County's largest school district.
"The only thing I know from this is we aren't going to be cutting anything," he said. "That has been our lifestyle."
Brown's $155 billion proposal calls for an 8 percent increase in general-fund spending, putting the largest chunk toward education.
Lawmakers are required to pass the state budget by June 15 so it can be signed into law and enacted by July 1. Missing the deadline means lawmakers do not get their salary or living expenses.
Brown administration officials are expecting a $4.2 billion surplus by the end of June -#8212; a far cry from the $26.6 billion budget deficit of less than three years ago.
"It will mean that districts ... will have some choices next year instead of eliminating," West County High School District Superintendent Keller McDonald said.
Yet McDonald expressed concern for a number of elements of the budget, including how districts will handle rising transportation costs.
The cost of busing students -#8212; a political football since 2012 when Brown proposed having districts pay for buses out of their general funds -#8212; is on the rise, McDonald said.
"What the governor didn't deal with is transportation costs," he said. "His budget is silent on it and our costs keep going up."
But for all of the unknowns, Sonoma County's 40 school districts are likely to fare significantly better in the proposed new deal than they have for years, said Denise Calvert, deputy superintendent of business services for the Sonoma County Office of Education.
"It's good news for districts," she said. "For the most part."
District administrators still were working their way through the new state-mandated Local Control Funding Formula, a dramatic change in how districts are allocated funds that directs a base amount of money per student but gives supplemental funds for students in certain categories, such as those who are learning English, are low-income or are foster students.
The State Board of Education is expected next Wednesday to approve a template for how districts are to allocate their spending to address their most at-risk students.
"Every district is going to have to identify how they are using the new money they get to serve their students," Calvert said.
Those plans must be submitted to the county office of education. "I can't emphasize enough -#8212; it is going to depend on the local decision-making process," Bower said of his district's spending priorities.
That makes the latest budget proposal out of Sacramento a marked change from years past, when decisions were made not how to spend, but how to cut.
"This does signify a change in direction," Bower said.
(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)
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