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Apodaca: Now is the time to pay attention

May 06, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District's budget outlook is going from bad to worse, and if there's ever a time to make your voice heard, now is it.

The budget crisis in Sacramento means that even the best-case scenario for education is bleak. The district, which has already cut $25 million over the past three years, is bracing for a new round of state funding reductions, and the possibility of an even bigger decrease on the way.

That has led district officials to issue increasingly grim warnings, such as when Acting Supt. Paul Reed said at a recent school board meeting, "Those of us that do so much with so little are about to do everything with nothing."

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For the moment, district leaders are preparing contingency plans based on possible outcomes of the budget battle underway in the state's capital.

At issue is the giant shortfall in state finances for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

After cutting more than $11 billion in projected spending, Gov. Brown and other Democrats want to fill most of the remaining $15-billion gap by extending or renewing four temporary tax increases, a proposal Republican lawmakers oppose.

The state's education system will be required to do with less, though how much less remains to be seen. Newport-Mesa is already facing cuts of $11.8 million to its $230-million budget. That breaks down to $570 per student taken away as the state shifts money away from districts in areas with higher property tax revenues to those where property taxes aren't enough to meet minimum per-student funding levels.

Newport-Mesa has assured staff and parents that it can temporarily balance its budget by dipping into its reserves.

But if the tax extensions that Brown advocates aren't passed, another $825 per student will have to come out of Newport-Mesa's annual budget.

Absent a huge resurgence in property taxes, the district's reserves would be drained by the end of the next school year, Reed said. After that, "we cut to the bone."

I spoke to Reed this week about the whole budget mess, and he remains impressively stoical in the face of this depressing prospect.

His one sliver of hope is that the electorate will wake up to the reality that "the state school system is about to implode."

Thus far, district cuts have been made largely in support services. But soon, he said, more drastic alternatives will be on the table. Talk is already circulating about the possibility of reducing the school year by 20 days.

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