Big districts divided over cutting school year if Prop. 30 fails

November 2, 2012

California’s 30 largest school districts are about evenly divided on whether they plan to further shorten this academic year if Proposition 30 fails next week, according to a new survey by EdSource Today. A third of the districts have already negotiated with their unions to lop anywhere from a week to a month from the school calendar if the initiative is defeated. Slightly more than a third report that they do not plan any more furlough days, and the rest say that a shorter school year remains an option that they plan to raise with their unions.

Responses from the 30 largest school districts, enrolling a third of the state’s 6.2 million students (see chart below), represent a snapshot of how school officials and teachers unions will deal with the consequences if Prop. 30 is defeated. However, the picture remains fluid. Some districts shifted their positions during the two weeks that EdSource Today collected information, and others offered ambiguous answers, reflecting uncertainty over how they’ll respond to a sizable cut to their budgets.


(courtesy of Educate Our State)

In a lament that has become a refrain among district leaders, Stockton Unified superintendent Steve Lowder said the district has made so many programmatic cuts over the past five years that shortening the school year is all that remains on the table if Prop. 30 goes down. The district budget assumes voter approval of Prop 30 and keeps the school year at 180 days. In the worst-case scenario, Lowder said he would have to reopen bargaining with the union to shorten the school year by 20 days. “If I can’t cut $15 million this year, I’m bankrupt in 18 months,” said Lowder. “The frustration and anguish is spent.”

Proposition 30 is the state initiative backed by Gov. Jerry Brown that would raise the sales tax by a quarter cent for the next four years and increase state income taxes on the wealthiest Californians for seven years. It began life with strong support, but a newly released Field Poll and a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California show the ballot measure falling short of the necessary majority vote.

Uncertainty over its fate has further complicated a budgeting process that is already an exercise in economic assumptions. Some, like San Jose Unified and Poway Unified, budgeted without counting on Prop. 30 revenues. They made cuts in programs or spent down reserves, and are among the dozen districts that reported they would not impose furloughs this year, although all bets are off for next year. The failure of the measure would be a double whammy to schools. Not only would it mean no increase in the Proposition 98 school funding guarantee, but it would also trigger an additional $5.4 million in midyear cuts (for K-12 and community colleges), amounting to 6 percent of Prop. 98 funding, or $439 per student.

Those trigger cuts are ongoing, too, so even districts that have been able to use their reserves this year to stave off major cuts will likely have to consider furloughs next year when those reserve funds are used up.

In setting the level of K-12 and community college spending for this year, the Legislature assumed that Proposition 30 would pass. However, realizing there’s a chance it might not succeed, lawmakers gave districts a financial out and lowered the minimum length of the academic year for this year and for 2013-14 to 160 days – three weeks less than last year and 20 days below the state’s standard 180-day school year. At this point, few districts have taken that drastic step; one that has is San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest district with 131,000 students. The district and its unions have agreed to 161 days for this year and next, knocking 19 days off its school calendar.

Others operated on the belief that Prop. 30 would pass, but they also developed contingencies, a Plan B if you will, that would either kick in on November 7 or have to be renegotiated with the union if the initiative loses.

“We’re waiting to see what happens on November 6. If Prop. 30 fails, we will sit down the next day to discuss what our options will be for next year. We’re at the point where we don’t have much we can lay off,” said Dianne Poore, assistant superintendent of business in Anaheim Unified. Layoffs would be limited anyway because, by law, districts can’t lay off teachers midyear, so furloughs and letting go of classified staff are among the few options available. The district already has an agreement with its union for five furlough days this year. Even with those reductions, Poore said the district could wind up on the qualified list when the State Department of Education releases its first interim report on school districts’ financial health in early 2013. (“Qualified” means the district is in danger of not being able to meet its financial obligations.)

San Bernardino City Unified reported to EdSource it would most likely put a freeze on hiring for 166 vacant positions and would no longer even fill them with substitutes.

Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest district in the country, also went on the assumption that Prop. 30 would pass. This wasn’t a decision based on the proverbial counting their chickens before they hatched; rather, the district decided it was best not to lay off scores of teachers for naught. The various approaches illustrate differences in school district values, practical considerations, and how risk averse they are, hypothesized Bob Blattner, whose education consulting firm advises a number of California school districts.

These districts “believed they couldn’t cut any deeper into core programs and have education worth showing up for. Rather than do less every day, they decided it was time to protect what they have and do it for fewer days,” said Blattner. “Other districts said, ‘We would rather go into the year knowing what we’ve got and adjust to a pleasant surprise than impose midyear cuts.’ The difference reflects the genius of local control.”

Even though the trigger cuts are included in the budget bill for this year, Republican legislators vowed to rescind them. In a letter sent this week to the teachers unions, heads of the three public college and university systems, and several advocacy groups, GOP leaders wrote, “It is time to put aside partisan politics and put education first.” But, even if they get enough Democrats to cross the aisle, Gov. Brown has repeatedly stated he would veto any attempt by lawmakers to repeal the trigger cuts.

That leaves districts like Los Angeles Unified with possible scenarios that include borrowing funds against its reserve with no certainty of getting the money back from the state, or shortening the school year by another one to two weeks, ending the term in mid-April.

“I do not need to remind you of either the fiscal or credit situation this would place the district in,” wrote Gayle Pollard-Terry, LAUSD’s Deputy Director of Communications and Media Relations, in the EdSource Today survey. “The district’s financial forecast for 2014-15 is not sustainable or viable and the reserve would no longer exist,” she added. “I fully realize the stark and dark picture that this information paints, but I feel that it is the responsibility of this office to inform you of the financial impact on the district if Proposition 30 should go down now that all the numbers have come into focus.”

LAUSD has signaled that it intends to end school three weeks early in May, if Prop. 30 is defeated. So, far it has already negotiated with employee groups to end school five days or one week early for a 175-day academic year. After Nov. 6, the district may ask unions for further discussions, according to Thomas Waldman, director of Communications and Media Relations for the district.


Impact on school year if Prop. 30 and Prop. 38 fail
District (unified unless otherwise indicated)
Number of days in Current School Year, 2012–13
With Full Trigger Cuts,  No. of Days in Current School Year  Additional Information from Districts 
Anaheim Union High
180 175* Reserves covered $12 million – not available in 2013-14.
Capistrano 175 165* Furloughs would be needed if Prop. 30 passes.
Chino Valley
175 175 No additional furlough days planned at this time for 2012-13.
Clovis 180† 180† Possible furlough days but not in 2012-13 district plan.
Corona-Norco 175 To Be Decided (TBD) Contract allows reopening talks for more furlough days.
Elk Grove 180†† 180 Should Prop. 30 fail, “we will face significant cuts in future years.”
Fontana 175 170* District also has negotiated 5 furlough days in 2013-14.
Fremont 180 TBD Agreements with 3 employee groups on 3 furlough days in 2012-13; not yet with teachers.
Fresno 180 180 If Prop. 30 fails, district estimates its total loss will be $29 million.
Garden Grove 177 177 Going forward to 2013-14, “all options are on the table.”
Kern Union High
180 TBD If Prop. 30 fails, concessions could include furlough days, salary cuts, or health benefits.
Long Beach
180 TBD Up to 20 furloughs days among options board would consider.
Los Angeles
175 160** If Prop. 30 passes, district hopes to restore some furlough days.
Montebello 180 175** $13 million trigger cut equals 180-250 employees.
Moreno Valley 175 175 District is assuming 7 more furlough days in 2013-14.
Mt. Diablo 180 171* Still needs to find $3 million for 2012-13 – cuts or reserves.
Oakland 180 180 Avoided furloughs by cutting adult ed, classified layoffs.
Poway 180 180 On the block 2013-14: furlough days, elementary music, HS sports, small K-3 classes.
Riverside 180 180 District is considering 4 to 20 furlough days in 2013-14.
Sacramento City 178 168* Unions, district agreed to a total of 12  furlough days in 2013-14 if Prop. 30 fails.
Saddleback Valley 176 176 Staff/program reductions likely; classified  workers, management.
San Bernardino City 175 175 Will not fill 166 jobs left vacant in event of Prop. 30. losing.
San Diego 175 161* Furlough days can be extended to 2013-14 under agreement.
San Francisco 179.5 174.5* District expects up to 5 more furlough days in 2013-14 if Prop. 30 fails.
San Jose 180 180 District’s larger than average reserves (23%) cushioned cuts.
San Juan 179 168* Placed freeze on step-pay increases; cut stipends in half.
Santa Ana 180 TBD In 2013-14, structural deficit grows to $48 million with trigger cuts; furloughs are ‘last resort.’
Stockton 180 160** District assumed Prop. 30 would pass, now warns of insolvency.
Sweetwater Union High
178 167*
Twin Rivers 175 165** District is planning for a total of 15 furlough days in 2013-14.
Source: Responses from officials of 30 largest school districts to October survey.
* Reflects furlough days negotiated with teachers union based on full impact of trigger cuts; some contracts call for rescinding furlough days if trigger cuts are reduced.
** Some furlough days likely; number reflects district proposal.
† Clovis has 179 instructional days for elementary; 180 for secondary.
††Elk Grove Unified also has year-round schools with 171 instructional days in their school year.


Additional reporting by Susan Frey and Christine Strena


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