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School Supt. Proposes Shut Down to Avert More Cuts

By Oliver Lukacs

Dec. 19 -- With the School District facing an additional $3.4 million in midyear budget cuts, Superintendent John Deasy on Thursday publicly unveiled an unprecedented plan to shut down the entire school system for 10 days in order to avert further cuts in staff and services.

Deasy's proposal -- which comes in the wake of $10 billion in State budget cuts announced by Gov. Gray Davis on December 9 -- would spread out the furlough over the remainder of the school year, sparing further program cuts and the jobs of between 70 and 100 employees.

The plan requires the go-ahead of the School Board, which recently approved a list of cuts to erase an initial $1.5 million budget deficit. It also requires that the State exempt the district from certain laws preventing any such arbitrary halt in operation.

"The realization and process for scheduling such an event must be collaborative and negotiated," Deasy wrote in a memorandum sent to the board before Thursday's meeting. "I recognize the educational harm done by such a measure, yet the result will be that all employees return to their full position, and all students return to a full set of programs and services.

"We would remain whole," Deasy wrote. " This event would fully clear the mid-year reductions."

Deasy said State Assembly representatives are receptive to the idea but have not officially picked up the gauntlet.

The plan comes in the midst of a growing State budget crisis that will require further local cuts. Next month, the governor is expected to announce a second round of cuts -- part of an effort to bridge a staggering $34.8 billion State budget shortfall -- that could leave the school district $11 million in the red next fiscal year.

"These are extraordinary times for the public schools in California," Deasy wrote in a memo to the board, "the effects of a State budget crisis of this proportion has not been seen before in our State. This is new territory and will require new and often out of the box thinking to resolve."

Deasy acknowledges his proposal is a drastic measure that falls just "short of civil disobedience."

"The State has abdicated its constitutional responsibility to public education," Deasy wrote. "We cannot tolerate the types of programmatic and personnel cuts that these reductions would constitute.

"In a way we must say NO," Deasy wrote. "We will simply not allow it. And short of civil disobedience, we must find a way to deliver the same result through alternative means to resolving this real State budget crisis."

Deasy said the cuts proposed by the governor at a special meeting of the State Assembly are "formulaic," meaning, for example, that the $3.4 million is a permanent cut of 3.66 percent from operating costs.

"Some of these cuts affect funding formulas, so you'll always (have) less once some of these cuts take place," Deasy said. "It has a reverse domino effect. Cuts will always be deeper down the road."

Down the road looms the $11 million shortfall Deasy projects will result from the second round of cuts Davis is expected to announce January 9.

Bracing for that axe to fall, Deasy has drafted a preliminary laundry list of proposed cuts to help absorb the blow, including terminating 60 teachers and 60 staff members, increasing class sizes and putting a spectrum of services and programs -- including art, music, and sports -- on the chopping-block.

To soften the blow, Deasy also is proposing to place a revised parcel tax initiative on a special ballot on June 3, 2003. He also plans to ask the State to immediately place before the voters an initiative that reduces the margin needed for approval from two-thirds to 55 percent. That measure would not go before voters until November, 2004.

Deasy noted that the $300 parcel tax on the November 2002 ballot - which would have generated $9.6 million a year - fell short, garnering 62 percent.

"It is an interesting form of government…that allows a revenue source to be reduced by a simple majority, yet to impose such a measure requires a 2/3 majority," Deasy wrote in the memo.

The revised initiative would be "a new style of tax…one that would affect all residential parcels at a rate of $144/year and all commercial/industrial parcels at $675/ year," Deasy wrote. The tax would generate $8 million a year.

Deasy noted that 56 percent of the $10 billion in cuts that led to his unprecedented proposal were lopped off from statewide education funds "proposed by the self-proclaimed 'education governor.'"
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