Gov. Jerry Brown wants K-12 districts to plan for the next school year as if voters will pass his $9 billion tax hike in November, but the vast majority of them are refusing to do so, according to a new Legislative Analyst's Office survey.
Nearly 90 percent of respondents said they will wait until after November to spend the money. In doing so, districts will likely lay off more teachers and increase class sizes beyond the level that Brown wants heading into the election.
District officials typically budget conservatively, assuming a worst-case scenario. This year, they have a huge uncertainty in not knowing how the November tax initiative will fare, yet they are required to decide how many teachers and staff to lay off before the school year starts.
According to the survey, 36 percent of districts said they would budget this year without the governor's tax hike but plan to spend the money in 2013-14. One-third of districts said they would wait until after November to figure out how to spend the money in the second half of the school year, while one-fifth said they would predetermine an automatic trigger spending plan that kicks in next spring if the taxes pass.
Only 8 percent of districts said they will pursue Brown's preferred path of installing trigger cuts for the second half of the year should the tax hike fail.
The Analyst's Office recommended several ideas, some of which may upset teachers' unions. It said lawmakers should allow districts to shorten the school year without penalty below the current 175-day minimum, which is already lower than the 180 days that had been standard in the previous decade.
The LAO also said lawmakers should delay the final teacher layoff notification date from May 15 to August 1 and enable districts to use a rolling emergency layoff window during the middle of the school year - something the California Teachers Association ensured would not happen in last year's budget.
The Analyst's Office also said the state should remove most of the remaining strings attached to district funding, such as penalties for enlarging class sizes in kindergarten through third grade and requirements for school bus transportation.
With the state already about $3 billion behind in revenues this fiscal year, lawmakers and Brown are sure to look under every rock for budget solutions. In the past, that has meant delaying payments to school districts. But the Analyst's Office warned today that districts may be incapable of dealing with another deferral as 40 percent said they would have to seek costly outside borrowing and 26 percent said they would have to cut because their borrowing options have been exhausted.