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State gives Loomis disproportionate cuts

By: Lien Hoang Loomis News Correspondent
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Students in the Loomis Union School District could be taking more cumbersome routes to school next year, as a result of the latest state budget cuts. Gov. Jerry Brown recently announced that K-12 schools would lose all state transportation funding – one of several midyear cuts triggered by a shortfall in tax revenues. Of the $248 million eliminated from school transportation for the remaining fiscal year, Loomis stands to lose more than $300,000. “Certainly, having cuts in the middle of the year makes things more challenging,” district superintendent Gordon Medd said. Medd said he is especially troubled about the transportation cut because it is unevenly distributed among districts. Namely, bussing takes up a larger chunk of some school district’s budgets than others. The overall cut represents an average loss of $42 per pupil across the state, according to the California School Boards Association. But for Loomis – a rural district with greater transportation obligations – the loss is $193 per pupil, nearly five times the average. A fairer solution, Medd said, would have been to subtract the same percentage from every district’s general fund to save $248 million total. Instead, the state took that money from transportation, on top of an $80 million general fund cut. Loomis has enough reserves to finish out the school year without interrupting services. But when district officials plan the 2012-2013 school year budget, they will have to decide where additional cuts can be made and how to adjust bus routes to save money – such as by making fewer stops. In the past, the district was forced to furlough staff, lowered salaries, and increased class sizes to survive the state cuts. Several groups are contemplating the legality of so many reductions to public education, and at least one has filed suit against the state. Los Angeles Unified School District argued in its recent filing that the spending cuts prevent the district from meeting legal obligations, such as transportation and other mandated services that might disappear without the state funding. The state “bears the ultimate responsibility for ensuring public school students receive equal educational opportunities,” the filing said. The School Board Association, along with the Association of California School Administrators, is weighing the benefits of joining that lawsuit, or filing its own. Loomis is a member of both associations. “Midyear cuts are the worst possible cuts,” said Bob Wells, executive director of the School Board Association. “This is much more disruptive to a child.” Higher education, libraries and social services will bear the brunt of the state’s nearly $1 billion in trigger cuts. With the help of sales tax revenues from holiday shoppers, K-12 schools were spared a worst-case scenario, according to Jay Stewart, Loomis district’s assistant superintendent of business services. “I feel almost bad saying this, but the cuts are not as bad as they could have been,” Stewart said. Still, Stewart said the district’s money woes are two-fold: First, the district has been operating on a budget 20 percent smaller than before the recession; second, the state often holds onto an additional 20 percent of promised funding, essentially giving the district an IOU. To fill the spending gap, education advocates and others have been lobbying state legislators to increase taxes directly or put the option before voters on a 2012 ballot measure. The Democratic governor’s similar attempts in the first half of 2011 ultimately failed because he could not get the necessary support from Republicans - two members in each chamber of the Legislature. Republicans said California could save money by making cuts in other areas and raise money by encouraging business growth through fewer regulations. Brown will take up the fight for further tax revenues again when lawmakers reconvene in this month, but Medd fears everyone could lose to partisan quarreling. “Once again, schools will be held hostage,” Medd said. “We are definitely not out of this economic crisis.”