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January 27, 2010 > Governor's proposed budget forces tough choices for Newark's schools

Governor's proposed budget forces tough choices for Newark's schools

Last year's financial crisis triggered many tough conversations within the Newark Unified School District as we sought to make ends meet with the limited resources we were provided. We underwent unprecedented, difficult dialogue.

Now it is clear we will have ample opportunity to continue this dialogue in the coming months. Gov. Schwarzenegger's 2010-11 budget proposal released earlier in January attempts to address an estimated $19.9 billion gap between state revenues and expenditures. Of the total, $6.6 billion is attributed to the fiscal year we are now in (2009-10) and $12.3 billion is attributed to the next budget year (2010-11).

The gap resulted from a decline in revenue ($3.4 billion) plus the effects of federal and state court litigation, population shifts, and other solutions that had been previously enacted which have eroded.

The governor's proposed solutions to the gap include $8.5 billion reduction in state expenditures, plus some alternative funding and fund shifts. However, the proposal also assumes a $6.9 billion increase in federal funds. Legislative analysts have already said that, while it is reasonable to assume the state will secure some new federal funding, the chances are almost non-existent that the state will get all of what the Governor seeks from Washington. In other words, as bleak as the Governor's proposal is, it could get even worse.

The governor also proposed a number of complicated maneuvers to reduce amounts guaranteed by Proposition 98. While the governor's budget did not provide complete details, the net result will be a reduction to the guarantee of $892.6 million in 2009-10 and $1.5 billion in 2010-11 from what it would be otherwise under current state law.

In light of this information, we are already in the process of forecasting the consequences of the Governor's budget and its likely effect on our district's funding. Our district's Fiscal Review Team will once again be facilitating ongoing conversations with the staff, parents/guardians, and community members. Together, we will be making recommendations to our school board on ways in which we can manage the budget shortfall.

No one really wants to make these choices, but we are forced by circumstances to do so. Challenging and critical choices will need to be made. We will have to reduce spending to keep the district fiscally solvent. I intend to assure that these decisions will be made with dignity, compassion, and understanding. We will be open with everyone about where we stand and how reduction choices are prioritized. Our choices will need to be prioritized with our focus on raising student achievement.

In the meantime, our district chose to take part in California's official application to enter the Race to the Top (RTTT) competition. RTTT is part of the federal stimulus package of bills known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In late 2009, the eligibility and selection criteria were announced for states to compete for $4.35 billion in the RTTT competition. Our decision to take part in the RTTT initiative was based on our belief that we are already well on the way to enacting the instructional reforms on which RTTT funds depend. In light of the other disruptions to funding streams, RTTT funds may well cushion us from consequences that would be even worse if we did not take part.

Throughout this process, no matter how complex and arduous it might become, we will work to keep the communications respectful and responsive, reaching out, gathering opinions and hearing the voices of all key constituents in the community.

Kevin Harrigan
Superintendent of Schools, Newark Unified School District

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