San Diego Business Journal

If the state Legislature approves Gov. Gray Davis' proposed $2.2 billion current year budget cut, education would lose the most money , money that many local districts have already set in motion to use.

The governor's plan would cut school funding by $1.2 billion, of which $842 million would be deleted from the current fiscal year and the remaining amount the following year. For area school districts, that cut could be critical, because many had designated those funds to be used this fiscal year.

"Basically, we have included in our adopted budget substantially all of the items the governor proposed to cut," said Richard Knott, controller for the San Diego Unified School District.

Knott said the district has estimated it could lose between $9 million and $10 million from its current budget if the cuts are approved.

The Poway Unified School District would lose more than $1 million if the cuts go through. That money, according to a school representative, has already been allocated and will force the district to look at the current budget and makes cuts elsewhere.

The same is true for San Diego Unified.

Knott said the effects of the cuts, if approved, wouldn't be seen this fiscal year, because it would be too late to make changes. The ax would fall in the 2002-03 budget, he said.

"I think that every school district is in the same boat that we are in," Knott said. "We can't layoff certificated staff. We can't not pay our utility bills. Books have already been ordered and placed in classrooms. It's too late to take those things back."

Gov. Davis ordered state departments and agencies to suspend allocation of more than $2 billion in spending from the 2001-02 state budget. Earlier this year, the governor ordered state agencies to freeze new hiring, cut operating expenses by $150 million and prepare 15 percent budget reductions for the 2002-03 budget year.

The cuts are necessary, according to the governor, because of the state's declining economy.

"California is facing the steepest decline in state income in more than half a century," the governor said in a memo to state agencies. "California's economy, which was beginning to slow before the September 11 tragedy, has been dramatically affected by the results of the terrorist attacks. The extraordinarily rapid decline in state revenues requires additional reductions in current year spending."

Davis' cuts range from transportation projects and health care to housing development. But education would take the largest hit.

The proposal would suspend $250 million earmarked for schools to cover energy costs, cut in half staff performance awards by $50 million, and delay a $200 million program to improve the state's lowest performing schools until July 1, 2002.

The San Diego County school district has just 3,000 students, so the budget cut would be significant, but not as critical as it would be to larger districts.

"My only hope is that in the next couple of months the economy will start to show some upturn and as a result of that upturn, maybe in January this will look a little more rosy and maybe (the governor) won't have to make as many cuts," said Owen Sweeney, executive director for district financial services for the San Diego County Office of Education.