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The insanity called California school financing
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in•san•i•ty - (n) 1. Being in an unsound state of mind. 2. California public school financing as put in place by the state Legislature.

Imagine having to run a business where you are unable to let any employees go for an entire year even though you aren't sure you can afford to pay them because you must tell them they have a guaranteed job 107 days before the employment year starts and you must pay them regardless of your financial situation.

Sound ludicrous?

It's what every public school district is required to do under state law in California.

They must notify teachers that they might want to let go for the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1 by no later than March 15.

If they fail to do so, they can't release them during the upcoming school year for financial reasons. And it isn't prudent to hand out precautionary slips informing them they may not have a job. Why? Because in the past teachers put in that situation have jumped ship creating another problem when they are actually needed and the school often has to scramble to find a qualified educator to teach a class often with days to go before the start of the school year.

And as funny as it may seem, the March 15 notification deadline is actually the more sane part of the budget process.

State law requires school districts to have a preliminary budget adopted in June. Forget the fact the state doesn't even have their constitutionally required budget in place by July 1.

School districts must budget in a vacuum each year.

Of course, they don't have to have the "final" budget adopted until August but even that usually doesn't help much with clarifying funding situations given the state's track record.

The preliminary budget for all practical reasons is what has to be the working budget as you can't change everything after the school year starts and not expect to have major problems.

So how can California get out of this insane system of putting the cart ahead of the horse?

Given the fact the majority of the state budget goes to education, why not simply change the budget cycle for the State of California and force them to go to a system where it has to be adopted by Jan. 1 by making calendar and fiscal years the same?

Of course, with the legislature this means a budget would more than likely be in place by April 1.

Switching it isn't all that complicated although it would be a momentous task.

All the California Legislature has to do is put in place a six-month budget on July 1 to serve as a bridge from a fiscal year that starts July 1 and one that starts on Jan. 1.

They can then fashion a budget for the calendar-fiscal year within six months after adopting the last budget under the current cycle.

Meanwhile, school districts would remain on a July 1 fiscal year.

The bridge budget would be exceptionally interesting to cobble together but once it is done and the Rubicon is crossed, some of the insanity should go away.

What would this accomplish?

School districts would know their level of state funding - which accounts for most of their revenue - ideally six months before they have to have a budget in place and a good 74 days before they have to make staffing decisions for the upcoming fiscal year.

School district wouldn't be "playing budget" trying to outguess the state. Usually what happens is there are massive budget adjustments which happens after the school year starts.

Under the current system, it isn't unusual for state law to force programs to be locked in. Then the legislature turns around and reduces funding for such programs below what they initially promised.

It essentially ends the truth or dare game that always ends up with the local school districts losing.

The state also needs to stop paying schools its share of the tab for educating kids a good three to six months after the local school district spends the money.

How things got that way was because of the legislature's inability to control spending when revenue is dropping. So how they get around their budget shortfalls was delaying paying school districts for programs the state mandates and won't allow them to cut back on because staffing had to be in place by March 15. It is OK, though, for the state to renege on its responsibility under the California Constitution.

Getting rid of the budget shell game would help direct energy back to the classroom and not turn the entire concept of public education in California to one where post-mortem bean counting rules the day.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail