Brown Warns of More School Funding Cuts

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown warned education leaders Tuesday to “fasten your seat belts” when he unveils his proposed budget for next year, saying the plan will include painful cuts in school funding.

“Please sit down when you read the stories on the budget Jan. 10,” Brown said during a briefing on the budget with education leaders at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Don’t stand up. Do sit down. If you’re in the car, fasten your seat belt. It’s going to be a rough ride…

Jerry Brown talks about likely school budget cuts at a UCLA briefing.

“This is a really a huge challenge, unprecedented in my lifetime. I can’t promise you there won’t be more cuts because there will be.”

While Brown gave no specifics about cuts, both the governor-elect and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer bandied across-the-board budget slashing possibilities of 20 and 25 percent -– drawing gasps from some 200 educators, school administrators and teacher representatives present.

“Anyone who thinks we get by that without everyone getting hit probably should live in Mendocino County,” Lockyer said. “There are going to be cuts.”

“So far, I’ve heard good ideas about how to spend more money. Great. It ain’t there. It’s time to make cuts, I believe deep cuts. I’d do 25 percent across the board.

“Those who wanted less government, you’re going to get your wish. In other communities that are willing to put something on the ballot to make up that difference, they’re going to have a higher service level.”

California’s K-12 and community college education budget, which comprises about 40 percent of the state spending, has experience $7 billion in cuts over the last three years.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, another $2 billion will likely be slashed from the 2011-12 fiscal year.

“There are no more cuts to be made in public education without devastating the system,” Joel Shapiro, superintendent of South Pasadena Unified School District, told a panel that also included Budget Director Ana Matasantos and State Supt.-elect Tom Torlakson.

David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, lamented that “there is no more meat on this bone to carve, the only thing left is amputation.”

“If we do what Mr. Grinch wants us to do, the possibility of shutting down schools is a reality. Is that really what we want to do?”

In his remarks, Lockyer joking referred to himself as Mr. Grinch.

Even education leaders from upscale Beverly Hills said additional cuts will cripple their schools and what they can do in teaching students.

“We’re going to become basically a banana republic here in California,” said Lisa Korbatov, board president of the Beverly Hills Unified School District.

Facing a $28 billion deficit in the budget, Brown said he plans to have spending plan agreements hammered out with lawmakers within 60 days. Brown will take office Jan. 3.

“It will be a very tough budget, but it will be transparent,” he told reporters after the two-hour forum. “I’m going to lay it out the best I can. I’m going to work every day on this. I urge the legislators, ‘Don’t go off on other directions. Deal with the budget.’

“We’ve been living in a fantasy land. It’s much worse than I thought. I’m shocked. But I came here to do the people’s business.”

Economic conditions have become so bad, Brown said, that both California and the country find themselves facing possible historic challenges.

“It may be worse than the Great Depression in terms of the political pressures and the tearing of the social fabric,” Brown said.

Brown also said that, in sharing the sacrifices that need to be made, he now plans to cut the governor’s office budget by an additional five percent over the 20 percent he had previously announced.

“I’ve seen that office — It’s got a lot more people than the last time I was there,” he said. “It’s going to have a lot fewer by the time I arrive.”

Educators and administrators urged Brown to consider previous major cuts in education spending to consider spreading out the budget belt-tightening more evenly across state agencies.

But the governor-elect explained that some state departments and services –- like corrections — cannot be cut because of federal or state legal restrictions.
Still, he tried to hold out hope to the education advocates.

“For me education is fundamental as well as public safety,” Brown said. “Those are the pillars of what a civilized society and its government are really based on. And we’re going to do everything we can to minimize cuts to public schools.”