Bill Huyett, the new superintendent of Berkeley schools, is bracing himself for a dreaded exercise: cutting more than $2.5 million from next year's budget.

"Certainly we have to have teachers in the classrooms," he said. "We have to turn the heat on. We have to have insurance. Everything else is on the chopping block."

John Casey, superintendent of the Pleasanton school district, put the figure at $4.5 million. That amounts to 47 staff members and about $900,000 in supplies and equipment, he said.

Educators around the state are preparing for a $4.4 billion cut in education spending outlined in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget proposal. But even as school leaders plan for the worst, they are mobilizing to convince the governor that California schools need more funding, not less.

Huyett, Casey and more than a dozen other superintendents from Alameda County held a news conference Wednesday at Oakland's Westlake Middle School to urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reconsider his plan.

"The governor declared 2008 the Year of Education, and we are here to hold him to that promise," Oakland's state-appointed administrator, Vincent Matthews, said.

Tuesday night, after a presentation on the effects of Schwarzenegger's proposal on the Dublin school district, that city's school board unanimously approved a formal objection to the governor's plan. The board called Schwarzenegger's plan "a giant step backward for our students that would create chaos in our public schools with cuts of historic proportion that would derail the progress and threaten the education of millions of California students."

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state department of finance, said such cuts are difficult to make but are intended to restore financial stability to the state. Without the changes, the deficit would reach $14.5 billion by June 2009, he said.

Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting various state programs, from schools and parks to prisons. His budget focuses almost exclusively on reducing spending, rather than raising revenue, Palmer said, "because raising taxes, in his view, doesn't get to the issue of spending growth in the state."

Palmer said the reductions included in the proposal still provide funding for "all of the core instructional programs in education."

Educators disagree.

Misha Karigaca, principal of Oakland's Westlake Middle School, a large, ethnically diverse middle school near Lake Merritt, said he would have to run his school with $436,000 less next year because of the state cuts alone.

Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan, whose office reviews the finances of each local school district, said 15 of 18 districts in the county will be at financial risk if the state Legislature approves the proposal.

The Dublin district could expect a deficit of between $2 million and $2.3 million next year under the governor's plan. Layoffs, district officials said, are inevitable under the plan.

Dublin Teachers Association President Lee Carpenter commended the board for taking a stand in opposition.

"I'm very proud that you're taking this step," Carpenter, head of the teachers union, told the trustees. "I think it's a bold step."

Electives, counseling and junior varsity athletics are among the areas that might be targeted for cuts in Oakland, said Troy Flint, a spokesman for the state-run Oakland school district, which would have to trim more than $15 million from its budget under the proposal.

The district has yet to announce layoffs, though such staffing decisions must be announced by March 15.

Although districts promise to make cuts "away from the classroom," some worry that cutting sports programs and electives will take away the "carrot" that encourages students to focus on school.

"I think there are a lot of student athletes who, during the season, are more academically focused because they know they have to be to stay eligible," said Dennis Flannery, head coach of the girls basketball team at McClymonds Educational Complex in West Oakland.

Staff writer Eric Louie contributed to this story. Reach Katy Murphy at kmurphy@oaklandtribune.com or 510-208-6424. Read her Oakland schools blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education.