Alameda school officials say they are still bracing for fewer dollars under the latest state budget proposal from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite his decision to drop his controversial threat to suspend Proposition 98, the state's guarantee for education funding.
District leaders projected that Alameda schools would lose $4.5 million when the governor initially unveiled his draft budget, prompting demonstrations and rallies by angry parents, teachers and others.
On Thursday, Alameda officials were still mulling over the financial numbers within Schwarzenegger's revised plan.
It proposes that state officials be able to borrow against anticipated state lottery money as a way to offset the state shortfall, which is at least $8 billion.
"The governor's current budget proposal is about as risky as saying that I can build the school district's budget based on winning the lottery," Superintendent Ardella Dailey said. "What are my chances of that?"
Under the governor's revised budget, which was released Wednesday, school districts would not receive extra money to pay for rising costs in utilities or employee compensation, so districts may still need to slash services to meet those fiscal demands.
In addition, funding for special programs such as the arts and class size reduction are slated to take a hit.
"I'm an advocate for class size reduction," said Jack O'Connell, the state's superintendent of public instruction. "This budget goes in the wrong direction."
Luz Cazares, chief financial officer for the Alameda school district, called the latest plan "risky and controversial at best."
Cazares said she expects to have an actual number of the shortfall of what the district could be facing by next week.
"While it appears to meet requirements under Prop. 98, the revised budget is a shell game, leaving our schools the biggest loser," said Bill Schaff, a district trustee. "Without final numbers, which are several weeks away, and continued rhetoric from Sacramento, we still must anticipate a $4 million hit to Alameda schools."
Other school districts around the Bay Area face a similar dilemma.
While the new fiscal projections somewhat improved the outlook at in San Ramon Valley schools, the school board may still consider slashing $3 million in services and spending $4 million in reserves to cover costs.
"It's more promising, but we're still going to have to make significant reductions," said Terry Koehne, San Ramon Valley schools spokesman.
In anticipation of a huge drop in state dollars, other districts had authorized massive reductions. The Mount Diablo school board has voted to cut more than $18 million over the next three years and to eliminate nearly 175 positions. In Pittsburg, the school district sent layoff notices to teachers and psychologists and warned of bigger class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.
These districts could choose to restore jobs in light of Wednesday's announcement. But Bruce Fuller, a public policy and education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said the governor's scheme could leave them in a lurch come fall.
Borrowing money against anticipated state lottery revenue as the governor suggests would require voter approval. The earliest chance to put a measure on the ballot would be in November, months after most classes start next fall.
That means districts that cut jobs already will likely begin the year with smaller staffs — and larger classes — regardless of the election's results.
"Borrowing against the lottery could yield some relief," Fuller said. "But in the short term, it's not going to slow down teacher layoffs."
School activist Jorge Rueda of Richmond said he remained skeptical of Schwarzenegger's fiscal rescue plan. The great-grandfather of an El Sobrante Elementary School student still planned to protest the budget in Sacramento on Thursday.
"You know how politicians are," Rueda said. "Until I see it written down as a law, I'm not going to believe anything they say."