CONCORD -- The Mt. Diablo school district now estimates it would lose between $1.8 million and $4.2 million annually starting in 2012-13 if Clayton Valley High converts to a charter school.
"It could go up or down from one year to the next," Superintendent Steven Lawrence told a group of parents and principals during a Monday meeting to discuss the budget.
The district is grappling with state laws that force unified school districts to pay high school charter conversions about $941 more per student than they receive from the state. Lawrence said he has asked Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson if they would try to change the laws.
Bonilla has pledged to introduce legislation that would allow districts to consider the financial effect of a charter in their decisions to approve or deny applications. Currently, districts cannot use loss of money as a reason for denying a charter.
Mt. Diablo trustees rejected the Clayton Valley charter in a 4-1 vote this month, but the applicants have appealed to the Contra Costa County Board of Education and have vowed to appeal to the state board, if necessary. They hope to open as a charter next fall.
Lawrence and district Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards said the state's budget cuts, combined with the charter conversion, could cost the district up to $9.6 million a year. If the teachers' union doesn't agree to seven furlough days, the district will spend another $6 million a year that it did not plan in its budget, they said.
This could mean the district would need to cut at least $4.3 million from its 2012-13 budget to stay afloat, after using some reserve money. Lawrence said he might ask principals and interested parents to begin discussing possible budget cuts, as well as ideas for generating money.
Last year, a similar committee discussed a parcel tax and partnering with cities on sales tax increases that could partially benefit schools. Lawrence said a $348 million bond measure voters approved last year helped reduce operating expenses by up to $8 million a year, through solar energy savings, paying off purchase agreements and covering deferred maintenance.
He recommended waiting to make cuts until after the governor releases his budget in January. Lawrence also mentioned the possibility of a statewide tax measure on the November 2012 ballot, which could help fund schools.
Clayton Mayor David Shuey, who is on the charter committee, said the presentation showed that the charter is a small piece of a bigger budget problem the district faces, due to state budget cuts.
"This charter effort is kind of a drop in the bucket and it's been a mountain made out of a molehill," he said. "The charter has been the target rather than the state."