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State budget cuts would hit Napa Valley schools hard

01.07.2012 | Napa Valley Register | Isabelle Dills

The Napa Valley Unified School District is facing a $6.5 million to $7.5 million cut if voters reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax initiative this November.

Brown hopes to raise $6.9 billion in revenue by temporarily increasing the state sales tax by half a cent and raising taxes on individuals who earn $250,000 or more per year. The tax increases would expire in five years.

The reduction in education funding would be equivalent to three weeks taken off the school year, said J. Wade Roach, NVUSD’s assistant superintendent of business services.

It is not yet known how many fewer school days, if any, the school district would impose if voters reject the tax increase. Last year, the district cut its instructional days from 180 to 176. There are 175 days this year.

Making the school year significantly shorter is something the district hopes to avoid.

“The economic engine of the state is a well-educated citizenry,” Superintendent Patrick Sweeney said Friday.

Instead of lopping weeks off the school year, Sweeney said he would rather see the more balanced approach proposed by the governor. “He seeks cuts and increased revenues,” Sweeney said.

Overall, the state budget projects a $9.2 billion deficit for 2012-13  — far less than last year’s deficit of $26 billion. In addition to tax increases, Brown is also looking to reduce the budget gap by cutting programs and services aimed at the poor, including the welfare-to-work program, child care services, and Medi-Cal.

Statewide, public school funding is facing a $4.8 billion reduction if voters don’t approve the tax hike. This is according to Brown’s 2012-13 budget proposal, which was mistakenly released on the Department of Finance’s website Thursday. The proposal was originally scheduled for release next week.

Among the proposed cuts is the elimination of transportation funding for both special education and regular bus routes.

Napa Valley Unified has a “very limited” number of kids who are transported by school buses, and the majority of those are elementary school students, transportation supervisor Ralph Knight said. Over the years, routes have been cut due to low ridership, and with the construction of new schools more students live within walking distance, he said.

Of the 65 buses in the school district’s fleet, 43 are being used, Knight said. Napa Valley Unified is federally mandated to provide transportation for special education students, who account for about 50 percent of the district’s ridership.

Brown’s budget proposal also eliminates the new transitional kindergarten program, a savings of more than $223 million to be used to support existing education programs.

The transitional kindergarten program is part of the Kindergarten Readiness Act, which requires incoming kindergartners to be age 5 before Sept. 1. The law is being phased in over three years. The law required school districts to create a transitional kindergarten program for affected students.

It is not yet known how many students in the district will be barred from entering kindergarten this fall, or how much this loss in attendance could cost the district.

Part of Brown’s proposal is about changing how school districts are funded.

Since the late 1990s, the district’s funding has been based on the average daily attendance of students. Under Brown’s proposal, the amount of money given to a school district would be based on individual student need and not enrollment. The state would allocate a specific amount to educate each enrolled student, and school districts would be given greater flexibility to use existing funds earmarked for English Language Learners and free and reduced lunch students.

Roach said the school district will build two budgets for 2012-13 — one that assumes the tax initiatives will pass, and one that doesn’t.

“At least until November, we’re going to act as if it’s not going to pass,” Roach said.

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