Politics in Sacramento is a little like watching one of those decorative wind spinners hanging on a porch. It changes directions as the wind shifts, and the switch can come at a moment's notice. It's hard to predict which way it will turn.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest budget revisions seem to offer relief and a little hope to local school districts. Following weeks of protests by parents, students and the community, he announced this week that he's dropping the plan to suspend Proposition 98, the state's guarantee for education funding.
He also is restoring the $234 million originally proposed in cuts in special education funding. But under the latest budget plan, school districts will not receive extra money to pay for rising costs in utilities or employee compensation, which means districts may have to cut services to meet these obligations. And funding for such programs as the arts and class size reduction still are expected to take a hit.
His new plan also would reduce deferred maintenance funds by $222.6 million and eliminate the state's matching requirement for local deferred maintenance programs in the coming school year. That's another hit.
What it means to Alameda schools may be unclear at this point. There's little assurance that any of the state's recommendations now on the table will work. What we do know is the school district is still facing a budget shortfall and there will be cuts next year in Alameda schools. It's not a matter of if cuts will happen, it's a matter of how deep will they will be.
Schwarzenegger's suggestion to borrow money against anticipated state lottery revenue will require the approval of voters, possibly on the November ballot. Whatever happens with that plan will not help the schools this fall.
As Superintendent Ardella Dailey succinctly put it, "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. What are my chances of that?"
After all is said and done, the latest changes seem to be just another move in the political shell game, shifting funding from one area to another in a vain attempt to cover all needs. It's not working. We wish the governor and lawmakers well — something must be done to fix the broken budget process in California — but we can't sit and wait for them to find the winning combination.
With all the uncertainty still hovering over Sacramento, the need for Measure H is even stronger. The new school year looms just months away, we must keep our schools running in the next year 2008-09 while trying to work with the lawmakers on a long-term solution. The solutions being offered at the moment, however, seem to be little more than a house of cards, with no solid foundation.
Nothing has changed for the local schools. Those hoping for clear answers on the fiscal crisis from the state may have a long wait. We must do what we can for our students. We can't afford to continue to gamble with their future. Measure H is even more critical for maintaining our levels of education here. Sacramento can't respond fast enough. It's up to us.