Sonoma County schools gird for new round of budget cuts

Kindergarten through 12th grade education was largely spared in the budget proposal Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled Monday but local educators were hardly celebrating.

The mostly grim reception of the latest budget was based in large part because the reprieve from cuts depends entirely on voters supporting a five-year tax extension.

Considering this plan needs to overcome the double hurdle of winning a place on the June ballot with bipartisan support, as well as eventual voter approval, local educators say they will hope for the best but plan for the worst.

"We are going to have to plan for those cuts and that is going to be emotionally wrenching for a lot of people," said Keller McDonald, superintendent of West County Schools.

Firm numbers on what districts should plan for were not available Monday, but could be between $4 billion and $5 billion for schools, said David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association.

"If we don't get a voter-approved revenue stream into this state it will have disastrous affect on our schools," he said.

Districts face deadlines in March and May for notifying employees that they may be laid off before the start of school in late summer. Those notices can be rescinded but officials said Monday that districts across Sonoma County will likely issue so-called pink slips in preparation for voter rejection of the taxes — if they even reach the ballot.

Republican leaders in the state Legislature said Monday that its caucus would not allow the issue to go to voters. Democrats do not have the two-thirds majority needed to qualify tax measures for the ballot.

"That is a real question," said Steve Bolman, deputy superintendent of Petaluma Schools. "What are we going to have to do if it fails?"

In announcing the plan, Brown gave few details about what would happen without voter approval of extensions to expiring income and sales tax hikes — measures they rejected in May 2009 — other than saying he would immediately look at K-12 funding.

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