BRENTWOOD -- Liberty Union High School District has suspended negotiations with two employee groups, as trustees wait to find out how California's projected deficit will affect their schools.

Meanwhile, officials with the Antioch Unified School District this week issued grim warnings that it will not be business as usual in 2008-09, even though it will be months before the board adopts a final budget.

One thing is already certain: It is not a pretty picture.

"It's going to be a devastating year for school districts," said Rick Miller, Liberty Union's business manager. "Everybody's going to have a cut in revenue."

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent up a distress signal Jan. 10 by declaring a fiscal state of emergency, he also released a proposed budget for 2008-09 that calls for an almost across-the-board 10 percent cut in education funding.

First, however, school districts must reduce the amount of revenue they are expecting from now through June to the tune of 0.5 percent.

Eliminating the state's $14.5 billion projected deficit for the next fiscal year not only would wipe out the cost-of-living adjustment that school districts normally receive each year to offset inflation, it also would cost them attendance-based money.

Liberty Union currently receives up to $6,665 annually for each student -- the actual amount depends on how consistently a teenager attends classes, Miller said.


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The state's proposed cuts mean that the district will lose $160 per student, and that means there will be more than $1 million less in next year's general fund than there is this year, even after factoring in the expected growth in enrollment, he said.

That does not include the 40 or so state grants the district gets each year, Miller added -- money earmarked for specific items and services, including textbooks, programs for gifted and talented students, school bus transportation and academic counselors.

Lopping 10 percent off that income equates to an additional $1 million loss, Miller said.

Cutting $2 million from a spending plan that is expected to be about $58 million is bound to hurt.

"It's a lot of money, because we are currently underfunded anyway," Miller said.

In Antioch, schools are facing the possible loss of $8.7 million.

A huge chunk of that represents attendance-based revenue -- up to $137 per student -- but it also includes $1.1 million intended for specific uses, said Denise Porterfield, the Antioch district's chief business official.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Deborah Sims succinctly described the seriousness of the situation.

"It's not a time to panic, but it is a time to be alarmed," she said.

The school board plans to hold a workshop next month to review its current year expenses and start identifying which services are absolutely necessary.

In March, trustees will hold a special board meeting to approve Porterfield's initial set of recommendations, which could include cuts.

Trustees of both school districts also are waiting to see what the Legislature will do next as they wrestle with such dilemmas as how to pay for summer school and maintain the level of special education along with other state- and federally mandated services.

With the declaration of a fiscal state of emergency, the clock has started ticking; lawmakers have 45 days to come up with a plan for solving the problem of this fiscal year's deficit, said Terry Anderson, senior director of legislative services for School Services of California Inc. The Sacramento lobbying and consulting firm specializes in education finance.

If legislators cannot pass a bill spelling out how to eliminate the deficit by the deadline in late February, they will not be able to act on any legislation or adjourn until they do, she said.

Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141 or rcoetsee@bayareanewsgroup.com.