By KERRY BENEFIELD and BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Gov. Jerry Brown’s hastily released state budget proposal would slash local health and human services programs while tying the fate of school funding to a proposed tax measure he wants on the November ballot.
Whether the measure makes it to the ballot, and whether voters will approve it remains uncertain, leaving Sonoma County school districts again facing the prospect of building two budgets, said Anne Barron, interim chief financial officer for Cotati-Rohnert Park School District.
“I believe we will all be heading down the path of two budgets — (for) the current level of cuts and catastrophic cuts,” she said. “Sadly, we are used to that.
“What the governor proposes and what the Legislature actually does can be very different. If his tax measures don’t pass, it would be pretty disastrous,” she said.
If voters reject the proposed tax hike, $4.8 billion in cuts would be levied on K-12 education across the state, the equivalent of a three-week reduction in the school calendar, according to Brown’s administration.
Meanwhile, the governor proposed a nearly $1.4 billion cut to welfare and child care aid and a $292 million reduction of in-home care services for the elderly and disabled that would take effect regardless of the fate of the tax measure.
That two-scenario budget approach led Santa Rosa City Schools to create a calendar for this school year that has been manipulated as the financial picture has changed.
Last spring, the district approved a schedule that included six furlough days. In September, the school board added back one day in December with the potential of adding three more in the spring. Those changes are expected to be the heart of upcoming negotiations between labor groups and district officials.
Because districts are barred from laying off teachers mid-year to deal with budget changes, tinkering with existing furlough days were the answer to a state budget that is vulnerable to dramatic changes.
Nothing in the budget package released Thursday clears up those ongoing financial questions, said Doug Bower, associate superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools, Sonoma County’s largest school district.
“Everything would be in suspense until November, halfway through next year,” he said.
Also included in the governor’s plan is the elimination of restrictions on class size in kindergarten through third grade. But many local districts already have increased their student-teacher ratio as budget cuts have forced them to reduce staff.
The impromptu budget release Thursday sent Sonoma County health and human service officials scrambling to assess the impacts on local aid recipients.
Officials said they were disheartened by the cuts, which come on top of deep reductions last year.
Jerry Dunn, interim director of Sonoma County’s Human Services Department, called the new proposed reductions “extremely disappointing.”
But Dunn also said he saw other strengths in the budget proposal, including its support of programs for abused and neglected children.
The largest proposed cut, the $946 million slashed from a welfare-to-work program, could affect more than a quarter of the 3,621 Sonoma County families enrolled in CalWorks, the state cash-aid initiative.
A $446 million proposed cut to subsidized child care could reduce payments for up to 170 local families, including 232 children, county officials said.
Brown would seek to save $842 million in Medi-Cal spending by moving recipients into managed care plans. The impact on Sonoma County’s 65,000 Medi-Cal recipients was unknown Thursday, county officials said.
Another reduction would come in a re-hashed bid to cut in-home care service hours by 20 percent — a prior version of the same proposal is being challenged in court. It also would eliminate those services entirely for clients living with other housemates who aren’t clients themselves and who can provide the needed assistance.
Dunn, called the in-home care cuts “disturbing,” saying they would “seriously restrict” services for recipients, who number about 5,200 in Sonoma County. About 2,500 of the county’s 4,800 providers are family members.
But Dunn cautioned that the cuts were “just proposals” at this point, hinting that lobbying and legislative wrangling could produce a different final spending plan later this year.
“They are similar to proposals in the past that have not made it into the final budget package,” he said.