Schools, social service agencies gird for more state budget cuts

Gov. Jerry Brown's hastily released state budget proposal would slash local health and human services programs while tying the fate of schools funding to a proposed tax measure he wants on the November ballot.

Whether the measure makes it to the ballot, and whether voters will approve it remains uncertain, leaving Sonoma County school districts again facing the prospect of building two budgets, said Anne Barron, interim chief financial officer for Cotati-Rohnert Park School District.

"I believe we will all be heading down the path of two budgets — (for) the current level of cuts and catastrophic cuts," she said. "Sadly, we are used to that."

"What the governor proposes and what the Legislature actually does can be very different. If his tax measures don't pass, it would be pretty disastrous," she said.

If voters reject the proposed tax hike, $4.8 billion in cuts would be levied on K-12 education across the state, the equivalent of a three-week reduction in the school calendar, according to Brown's administration.

Meanwhile, the governor proposed a nearly $1.4 billion cut to welfare and child care aid and a $292 million reduction in-home care services for the elderly and disabled that would take effect regardless of the fate of the tax measure.

That two-scenario budget approach led Santa Rosa City Schools this year to create a calendar for the school year that has been manipulated as the year and financial picture has changed.

Last spring the district approved a schedule that included six furlough days. In September, the school board added back one day in December with the potential of adding three more in the spring. Those changes are expected to be the heart of upcoming negotiations between labor groups and district officials.

Because districts are barred from laying off teachers mid-year to deal with budget changes, tinkering with pre-existing furlough days were the answer to a state budget that is vulnerable to dramatic changes.

Nothing in the budget package released Thursday clears up those ongoing financial questions, said Doug Bower, associate superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools, Sonoma County's largest school district.

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