CITYWIDE — The scalpel of state budget cuts continues to slice away at school districts in Santa Monica, but prior planning will shield both K-12 and community college students from the worst, officials say.
Gov. Jerry Brown announced in a press conference Tuesday that state coffers were short approximately $2.2 billion in anticipated revenues, triggering $102 million in cuts to the community college system and $79.6 million to primary and secondary education.
“That’s where we are today,” Brown said. “Cuts to university, in home supportive services, schools and prosecution are not good. This is not the way we’d like to run California. But we have to live within our means.”
The cuts were built into the budget, and would only be “triggered” if approximately $4 billion in hoped-for revenue failed to appear.
The triggers came in two tiers — higher education and other social services would be cut first, and, if less than half of the expected money came in, K-12 education would feel the knife.
While higher education will feel the full brunt of the loss, K-12 will only lose $79.6 million of the $1.5 billion it faced, said Ana Matosantos, director of the state department of finance.
The cut could equate to half of the transportation budget and approximately $13 dollars per student in state funding, said Jan Maez, the chief financial officer of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
That’s fabulous, considering that it could have been 20 times that amount if the state hadn’t realized any of its projected revenue.
“Months ago, we heard it would be $181, and we thought that was good news,” Maez said. “This is even better news.”
The district set aside money to cover potential losses in January, so students will not see any change in services this year, Maez said.
Subsequent years, however, remain a mystery.
Unlike K-12 education, the state college and community college systems and other social welfare programs were promised a $601 million reduction if the state fell short by $2 billion.
Santa Monica College officials put aside $1.24 million from its $12.6 million reserves to help weather the cuts, said spokesman Bruce Smith.
“We have a strong reserve, and thank goodness because with all of the cuts year after year after year, it’s been difficult,” Smith said.
The newest round of reductions brings cuts in the 2011-12 school year to $502 million for the community college system alone, said Paige Marlatt Dorr, spokesperson for the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.
In an attempt to offset some of those losses, state officials imposed a $10 increase per unit on community college students earlier in the year. The newest triggers will mean another $10 increase, raising the per unit cost from $26 to $46.
“That’s a 77 percent increase in fees in less than a year,” Marlatt Dorr said. “We serve some of the most vulnerable and needy students in the state. We are still the lowest, but for many of our students who are working two jobs, they’re barely making it paycheck to paycheck.”
The new revenue won’t appear until fall 2012, however, and some community colleges will still have to cut class offerings and, in some cases, personnel.
That’s not the situation at SMC because of careful money management and a higher population of out-of-state and international students that pay higher fees than California students, Smith said.
“We have actually hired some new tenure track faculty,” Smith said. “At the same time, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t good news.”
And the bad news could keep coming.
In his speech, Brown promised another round of cuts if Californians vote down a tax measure meant to raise $7 billion, which will appear on the November 2012 ballot.
“Trigger cuts are a process of fiscal discipline. Going forward, we’ll have an opportunity in November to vote in the revenue, almost $7 billion, or not,” Brown said. “If they do, taxes will be extended for the next few years. If they don’t, we’ll see even bigger cuts.”