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CUSD braces for budget hit
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Ceres Unified School District could end up withholding salary increases or issue lay off notices to staff members if the state's grim budget numbers result in cutbacks to education.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will not raise taxes to make up for a projected $14.5 billion budget deficit. The proposed budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year seeks to address the estimated $14.5 billion deficit by reducing state funding for most programs by about 10 percent on average.

"Nobody knows what that means," said Walt Hanline, superintendent of the Ceres Unified School District (CUSD). "We're waiting until they actually solve the problem and then when they do then we can proceed in doing the right things for our kids and our employees."

The state has until Feb. 23 to come up with an answer, said Hanline, before being sequestered.

The proposed budget by Schwarzenegger would cut about $150 per student on the average daily attendance fund received from the CUSD, and about a $65 cut per student K through 6.

Originally school officials expected the state would cut $1.4 billion from the current budget at mid-year, which equates to a $600,000 impact to the CUSD budget. Hanline also expected to receive a cost of living increase next year that wasn't as large as expected. Now all bets are off.

Proposition 98, a measure passed by California voters in 1988, establishes a minimum annual funding level for public education. The governor recently proposed major changes to the Proposition 98 funding guarantee for K-14 schools.

"The governor's proposal basically blew the floor up, so we don't know how far this will go down," said Hanline. "It's a free-fall at this point because the floor that the voters established in Prop. 98 as a worst case scenario, the governor's blown up."

Hanline said the governor's proposal would mean CUSD has expenses of 2008-09 with the funding levels of 2006-07.

"That's a pretty tough cut ... about eight percent."

CUSD is currently in negotiations with its two labor groups, the Ceres Unified Teachers Association (CUTA) and the California School Employees Association (CSEA) with the understanding that until the state budget picture is defined "there's not much we can say regarding dollars and cents," said Hanline.

"Prior to the crisis to being called and the suspension of Prop. 98, our hope was that we can provide the COLA that was provided in the district to them. But in this situation we have right now, we're going to be faced with two options: no salary increases or layoffs."

Hanline said he is optimistic that cuts to education won't be that drastic.

"I'm optimistic that the governor and the Legislature will understand that we didn't create the problem in education, why are you penalizing kids?"

"Nobody really knows what's going to happen, our hope is that he would rethink any proposed cuts to public education," said California Teachers Association Staff Representative Rolf Tallberg. "This was proclaimed the "Year of Education' not the year to cut education."

Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian said California can expect a tough year all around.

"With a 10 percent cut all around it is important to look at the area of education to try to make sure that no class is compensated at the expense of the kids," Aghazarian said. "It's going to be a busy year, a long hard year and I want to make sure we protect the kids."

In Schwarzenegger's Jan. 8 State of the State Address, he stated that even schools that need the most help must also undertake reform.

"Now, everyone knows that to dramatically change our education system we have to undertake reforms, and we have to fund those reforms," Schwarzenegger said. "In light of the current budget situation, of course, this is not the year to talk about money."

"It is sad to say, but because of the fiscal situation there is going to be pain all around and we have to work hard to make sure to minimize the impact in the classroom," Aghazarian said.

The governor's budget is a starting point to a long hard budget system, something Tallberg hopes will change.

"We are hoping that between now and when the budget is finalized people take a good look at public education because they can't afford to cut because; A) it represents the future of the state, and B) there is a voter mandate with proposition 98 to be funded, because that's what voters said," Tallberg said.