SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — There is good news and bad news for school districts in the California budget approved Sept. 2 by Gov. Pete Wilson after 63 days of deadlock.
Many local administrators, who spent months gnawing their knuckles in exasperation because the state budget crisis made it impossible for them to plan the school year, reflected the sentiment of Earl Davis, assistant superintendent for business services at the Arcadia Unified School District.
"I'm glad it's finally settled," Davis said. "The whole budget-building process was somewhat in limbo because we couldn't finalize it."
School officials also breathed a sigh of relief when Wilson on Friday reinstated $500 million in school funds that he had removed from the state budget. That returned $82 per student that schools receive each year, keeping the per-student total at about $3,000. In a district the size of Pasadena, for instance, this means a difference of $1.8 million.
The bad news across the San Gabriel Valley is that the state budget reduced so-called categorical funds by 2.3%. Districts use categorical funds to pay for programs such as special education, teacher's aides, instructional materials and bus transportation. Now, some of these will have to be cut.
Many school districts say the 2.3% cut will actually mean 6% less per district when officials take student population growth into account. There are 200,000 new students this year in California schools, which means less money per student.
In Pomona, officials say they will cut categorical programs by 6% to reflect the real loss. "We're hoping we don't have to lay anyone off, but we have a whole lot of experts trying to understand right now how it's going to work," said Patrick Leier, Pomona's assistant superintendent of business services.
Many local districts expect to make more cuts. Others pruned their budgets heavily last spring in anticipation of a lean state budget and are in good shape. State law requires districts to adjust their individual budgets within 45 days of the Sacramento budget, which was approved Sept. 2.
District officials say they are in a Catch-22 when it comes to programs such as special education, which is one of areas affected by the 2.3% categorical cut. Federal law prohibits schools from cutting that program, so districts now must look for other programs to slash instead.
"It's unfair," said Elaine Pendleton, assistant superintendent of business services for the El Monte City School District. "We're being asking to provide rabbits out of a hat."
Local school districts are awaiting word on their state disbursements from the Los Angeles County Department of Education, which doles out those funds and will have its financial analysis to the schools by early October.
"At the present time all we've got is our own analysis; you never know until the county recertifies the numbers and says, 'You're going to get this,' " said Mark Facer, a business consultant for Pasadena Unified.
Here is how the state budget will affect some local school districts:
* An official with the Alhambra City and High School Districts said no further cuts are expected this year. The district has already made $300,000 in administrative cuts.
"We think we're all right; we've been making cutbacks for a couple of years trying to anticipate some of these things," said Richard A. Keilhacker, Alhambra's associate superintendent for administration. But he added: "We're not going to make any conclusions until we get the numbers from the state and county and see what they mean."
* There is a more upbeat mood in Arcadia Unified, where district officials made sufficient cuts earlier so they won't be affected by the drop in categorical funds. Arcadia has already gone through several rounds of cuts, including layoffs of six part-time library aides and three clerical positions.
But the district has reinstated $50,000 of a much-loved $140,000 instrumental music program at elementary schools. Plans to eliminate the program caused an uproar among parents, who successfully lobbied the board earlier this year. A bond election Tuesday to fund school improvements will have no effect on instructional programs.
* In Baldwin Park Unified, officials said they do not anticipate any more cuts. In June, the district cut $2.8 million to balance its $66.9-million budget. Philip Sexton, Baldwin Park's deputy superintendent, said the district has not laid off employees, but has cut its staff through attrition and job sharing.
* Parents in Azusa Unified are furious that the district has discontinued bus transportation, leaving some students without rides to school. "It's much too far for our little children to walk, it's our kids' safety and there are a lot of people who have no other way to get their children to school," said Andrea Wilkerson, whose daughter Chance, 6, is in first grade.
District officials say they do not plan to reinstate the service and will probably make additional program cuts.