Budget Notebook: IUSD looks at possible furlough days amid hazy state budget outlook


BY SUPERINTENDENT TERRY L. WALKER

Every May, for better or for worse, the budget picture becomes a little clearer for school districts, as the state begins to solidify its spending plan for the next fiscal year.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case this time around.

With California’s budget deficit ballooning and the governor pinning his revenue hopes on a November ballot initiative, school districts are left with a growing number of uncertainties for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Most districts – if not all – are planning for the very worst.

IUSD is taking a more strategic approach. Having already made $38 million worth of cuts in recent years, we are working closely with our employee groups to secure up to seven furlough days, which could be triggered next year depending on how much we receive from the state in 2012-13.

We recognize that furlough days are far from an ideal solution, as they represent a loss of instructional days for our students and reduced compensation for our hard-working employees. They can also prove inconvenient for families that like to plan ahead. But for a majority of districts in Orange County, furloughs have become a stark reality over the last few years, and we view them as a necessary means to preserving flexibility and maintaining our core instructional programs during this fiscal crisis.

On May 15, our Board of Education formally ratified a tentative agreement between our district and the Irvine Teachers Association that includes seven potential furlough days for 2012-13, and similar negotiations are underway with our other employee groups. It is my hope that we won’t have to use any of them. At the same time, I want to thank all of our employees for their willingness to work together to help resolve our fiscal challenges, and for making significant sacrifices that have spared jobs and maintained our standing as a world-class school system for our 28,000 students. Words are almost insufficient to express my admiration and appreciation for the educators and support staff at every level of this organization.

As I mentioned previously, lawmakers in Sacramento have offered little in the way of concrete information as we approach the final weeks of the school year. Yet, with our district’s spending plan due in June, here’s what we do know:

State tax receipts are coming in lower than expected, and some earlier state cuts have been blocked by the federal government. As a result, California’s deficit has nearly doubled to approximately $16 billion, and that means the potential of even deeper cuts.

Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown is hoping to augment the revenue side of the ledger with a ballot initiative that would temporarily raise taxes for high-income earners and increase the sales tax by 0.25 percent through 2016. If that initiative passes in November, schools would be “held harmless” with relatively flat funding. If voters reject the tax increases, public schools would likely be cut by about $5.5 billion, and that would translate into a loss of approximately $11.5 million for IUSD.

Fortunately, our district has set aside some funds and implemented a freeze on all non-essential spending to help blunt the impact of midyear reductions. But under our worst-case scenario, the one in which we’re cut by an additional $11.5 million, we are projecting a shortfall of more than $5 million for 2012-13. Furlough days would bridge this gap, though a structural deficit would still need to be addressed for future years.

If there’s any good news, it’s that class sizes are not set to increase in IUSD, and our popular art, music and science programs are not in jeopardy. Not every district can make this claim, yet we have managed to preserve our cornerstone instructional programs thanks in large part to the leadership of our Board of Education, sacrifices made by our incomparable staff and contributions from community partners, including the Irvine Public Schools Foundation, the City of Irvine and the Irvine Company. I would also like to thank you, the members of this community, for helping us weather this storm with your volunteer time, your valuable ideas and your generous donations to IPSF, which has worked with the City in recent years to pay for valuable class-size support.

In good times and bad, this community works because each of you comes together on a daily basis to collaborate on solutions that benefit our students. I have no doubt that there are brighter days ahead for our state’s economy and, in turn, our district’s finances. In the meantime, I thank you for all that you do to help our schools.