East Bay schools are bracing for a fiscal shakedown after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he wants to slash $4.3 billion from the state education budget in 2008-09 and to immediately suspend the law that ensures basic public school funding.

Nearly $360 million also could be carved from this year's budget, according to plans unveiled today. That would force school districts across the state to pare spending now.

"It's going to be hard and it's going to cause a lot of pain," said West Contra Costa school board member Charles Ramsey. "Everything has got to be on the table."

Besides across the board cuts, special education would lose $360 million in state dollars, shifting the cost to local school districts. Schwarzenegger also called for cutting before and after-school programs by $60 million.

"This is a devastating budget," said Jim Negri, superintendent of the Acalanes Union High School District. The Lamorinda districts may need to cut $3 million dollars from a $55 million budget, he said

Financial blows of this magnitude struck less than five years ago.

During the state fiscal crisis following the dotcom bust, the West Contra Costa school district nearly eliminated money for music, sports and libraries. Teachers and parents from the district marched 70 miles to Sacramento in 2004 to demand more school funding.

In Oakland, protesters staged a hunger strike. In the end, the state took over the bankrupt Emery, Vallejo and Oakland school districts.


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"We've been through this before, and unfortunately, we're getting pretty good at it," said Richard Schafer, Moraga school district superintendent. Schafer said he would try to minimize the effect on classrooms by cutting spending on things like conferences and maintenance supplies.

The Walnut Creek school board will take a hard look at its budget again on Jan. 26.

"Obviously, we are concerned," said Barbara Pennington, Walnut Creek school board president.

This year's budget crunch could prove particularly tough in the Mt. Diablo school district, which faced fiscal challenges even before the governor's announcement. The school board has already voted to lower spending by $3 million.

"We're down to the bare bones," said Mt. Diablo school board Linda Mayo.

Despite the grim outlook, the governor's attempt to school funding laws likely won't slide through without a fight.

Last time Schwarzenegger slashed education budgets and suspended Prop. 98 in 2003-04, the California Teachers Association and state superintendent of schools Jack O'Connell sued the governor for funding education below the proposition's guaranteed level and won a settlement.

Union president David Sanchez again vowed to fight for school funding.

"The integrity of Proposition 98 has to be protected," Sanchez said.

O'Connell also expressed disappointment in the governor's proposal.

"The reason voters passed Proposition 98 was to provide stability, predictability, and growth for our schools so our classrooms would not be at the mercy of swings in state budget as they are today," O'Connell said in a written statement.

The state started warning school districts officials in October of mid-year budget cuts, said state Education Secretary David Long.

In anticipation, some school districts like Pleasanton began trimming extraneous costs early.

"Travel and conference has been pretty much cut back for this year," said Myla Grasso, Pleasanton school district spokeswoman. The school board may consider asking voters to approve a parcel tax to maintain programs.

Districts should consider cutting programs not directly related to improving student achievement, said Jeannie Oropeza, an education budget manager in the state Department of Finance.

"Schools really need to take a closer look at their budgets," Oropeza said. "There are many teachers who work on curriculum development, mentoring. Maybe that's the area where you cut."

Staff writers Eric Louie, Elisabeth Nardi, Nargis Nooristani and Kimberly S. Wetzel contributed to this report. Shirley Dang covers education. Reach her at 925-977-8418 or sdang@bayareanewsgroup.com.