School districts across the state would lose approximately $2 billion in funding next year if tax extensions suggested by Governor Jerry Brown are not approved by California voters.

Before the voters have the chance to decide, lawmakers must first agree to put the tax extensions on the ballot, said Kathi Emerson, superintendent of the Mount Shasta and Weed elementary school districts.

Less revenue means fewer teachers, and Siskiyou County schools are preparing for the worst by initiating teacher layoffs. The hope is they’ll bring employees back after tax extensions are approved during a special election.

“If the people of California don’t vote to keep the current level of taxation, schools stand to lose approximately $350 per student,” said Dunsmuir Elementary School superintendent Cindy Rinne. “We’re already functioning with a very minimal amount of funding, and that kind of cut would significantly impact us.”

The dismal budget
California faces a $25.4 billion budget deficit. Governor Brown proposes to make up $12.5 billion through budget cuts for social services and higher education, among others. He also wants voters to decide on a five year extension of personal income tax and sales tax hikes, as well as the increases in vehicle license fees approved by voters in 2009.

These tax increases are set to expire this summer, but if they’re extended by voters, Brown has promised not to cut more money from K-12 education.

If they don’t pass, schools will most likely receive about $330 less per student, according to Siskiyou Union High School District superintendent Mike Matheson.

For SUHSD that would mean a total budget cut of $220,000, Matheson said.

Mount Shasta Union School District would face a $178,000 cut in funding; Weed a $97,000 cut, Emerson said.

Dunsmuir Elementary would lose $50,000 in revenue, said Rinne.

What the cuts would mean
“We’re all operating on the premise that the worst case scenario could happen,” said Matheson.
Because schools are already operating on a bare bones budget, more cuts mean more teacher layoffs.

MSUSD approved layoff notices for four teachers during their Feb. 8 meeting. One teacher resigned, and two temporary teachers were not rehired.

The WUESD board issued 4.6 full time equivalent lay-offs and chose not to rehire one temporary employee during its meeting on Feb. 7.

If the tax extensions are approved in June, Emerson said the districts would be able to bring most of those teachers back to maintain programs and keep class sizes small.

Rinne said at DES, they’ve had to lay off two “very fine teachers” who she doesn’t want to lose. She’s hoping the tax extension will be voted through and the district will be able to hire them back for the 2011-12 school year.

If the extensions aren’t approved, Rinne said the school will need to combine programs and create combination classes with two or more grade levels in a single classroom.

Matheson said his district will be initiating layoffs at their next board meeting on  Wednesday, March 9 in Happy Camp.

The SUHSD board on Jan. 12 discussed problems associated with a limited number of teachers, including fewer class offerings and electives. They worry that decreased funding could mean fewer options for students.

Dunsmuir High School’s position is not as severe as some others, said superintendent and principal Len Foreman.

“For the past four or five years, we’ve been squirreling away all the money we could. We have adequate resources to survive, but we won’t flourish” if the taxes aren’t extended, he said.

Foreman said his district is also planning for the worst case scenario. If they have to make cuts, they’ll do it as far away from the classroom as they can. He said they won’t need to lay off teachers, though another hit to school funding “would be incredibly devastating to education. Even with our resources, we would be hurt.”

The extensions
Among the extensions included in the Governor’s proposal are a quarter of a percent increase in personal income tax, as well as a one percent increase in sales tax. If passed, the sales tax would remain at eight and a quarter percent and wouldn’t return to seven and a quarter for another five years. Voters would also be asked to extend a hike in the state’s vehicle license fees.

In addition, taxpayers would keep getting $200 less per dependent from the state in tax returns.

Sixty-six percent of the state’s legislators must vote to put the issue on the ballot, which means all the Democrats and at least four Republicans would need to support putting the increases on the ballot, said Emerson.

If it does make it to the election, a simple majority of California’s voters would need to approve the extension in order to keep school funding level, she added.

Current funding
In 2010, California was $2,580 per student below the national average per student expenditure, according to statistics made available by School Services of California.

If the Governor’s extension plan passes, school funding will stay level with last year. This level is still $1,270 below the state’s statutory funding level, according to SSC.

If the tax extensions don’t pass, schools would lose an additional $349 per student, putting California $2,929 below the national average, according to the SSC.

Because of past budget cutting, K-12 schools are operating on about $6.2 billion less this year than they were three years ago.