Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - February 5, 2010

Editorial

Wishful thinking might not solve school budget crisis

Wishing may not bring the extra dollars needed to balance an $8-million shortfall in the Pleasanton school district's 2010-11 fiscal year budget, but comments and suggestions from hundreds of local parents and other taxpayers are offering a wide range of hope for addressing the crisis. These range from salary freezes and reductions to cutting sports completely -- at least some of them -- and reducing the school year for a year or two to revising the statewide, voter-approved Proposition 13 that curbed runaway property tax increases and, some believe, caused the education-funding dilemma to begin with. Some ideas, including a proposal to ask voters again this year to approve a parcel tax for Pleasanton schools, are not likely to be in the final budget plans now under consideration by the school board and school Superintendent John Casey.

This will be Casey's final budget as superintendent, a post he'll be leaving June 30 after eight years at the helm when he retires and turns the top job over to a new superintendent, who is now being recruited by an executive search firm. The new leader is expected to be at work by mid-May, in time to recommend further changes -- and possibly more belt-tightening -- before the board approves the final, and balanced, budget document in late June. Although the shortfall now totals $8 million, it could swell after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature wrestle themselves with a $19.9-billion budget shortfall they're facing in the state's 2010-11 budget, which also should be adopted by June 30. The governor and legislature can, however, "stop the clock" until they reach an agreement on the new budget, but the Pleasanton school district and others facing the same funding shortfalls throughout California, don't have that luxury. School district budgets must be balanced by the start of the new fiscal year July 1, which means all districts, including ours, will have to make major teacher and other staff cuts and reduce programs and increase class sizes before then. Teachers, in fact, must be notified by March 15 if their jobs are in jeopardy, with actual pink slips to follow by the end of this school year.

Parents and teachers jammed school board meetings, pleading with board members to spare children from some of the onerous cuts that could affect the quality of education in Pleasanton. Those pleas and hundreds more being sent by emails and phone calls, and also being discussed in this newspaper's Town Square online forum, are urging Casey and the board to find funds needed to cover the shortfall -- wishful thinking at best in a state that handles the funding for education and is simply running out of money.

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