State budget frees cash for schools, cuts tax for teachers

By Nancy Gutierrez

Though sacrifices have been made, the passage of the 2004-05 state budget will allow school districts to finalize local budgets and more importantly will release cash flow to districts who will be looking to pay bills and payroll for the month of August.

Business Manager Les Henson has spent many hours in the district office working on the Lindsay Unified School District budget. He said that because the projected Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) remained the same there would not be a huge effect on LUSD's working budget.

"We budgeted the deficit accordingly with our share of the deficit amount," Henson said. "We don't expect any budget reductions other than what was approved."

The only problem that would have occurred had a budget not been passed would have been payment of bills and salaries for employees. Had that happened, Henson said the district would have borrowed Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRANs). TRANs issuances are a form of borrowing used to smooth cash flow shortfalls which arise when disbursement needs do not match the timing of revenue flows.

"But since the budget was approved there will not be a need for that," He said.

The state budget provides COLA and student growth increases for all k-12 schools and community colleges. It also increases overall k-14 education spending by more than $2 billion form current levels. It includes full funding of class size reduction, special education and programs that support schools of greatest need. It restores $200 million to community colleges and money to allow more than 6,000 students to attend UC and CSU schools. The budgets protects the integrity of proposition 98 and guarantees that any money owed to schools under the minimum-funding provisions will be restored. Henson said prop 98 is a guarantee of funding for schools and that LUSD relies on the proposition to begin budget development for the coming year.

"Students, teachers and schools will certainly feel pain in this budget, but I congratulate the Governor and the Legislature for compromising and passing a state budget," said Barbara E. Kerr, president of the 335,000 member California Teachers Association. "In addition, the money restored to our UC and CSU systems will help thousands of students this year.

But Kerr also warned that the barrage of cuts to public education cannot continue. With the passage of this budget, California k-12 classrooms have lost more than $9.4 billion in cuts and funding deferrals in the past four years.

"Our public schools cannot continue to suffer losses of this magnitude and maintain the quality education out students deserve," Kerr said. "Politicians like to talk about putting students and public education first. It's time to stop talking and start looking for some real, long-term and stable funding solutions to meet the needs of our students. Without new revenues for our schools, our students will suffer even more."

Kerr also objected to one provision of the state budget that suspends the teacher tax credit for two years.

"Singling out teachers for tax increases in the middle of the year is outrageous," Kerr said. "This tax credit offsets the hundred of dollars teachers spend out of their own pockets each year to buy basic supplies for their students and classrooms. They don't deserve to be penalized a second time for providing what the state does not."

Teachers throughout the state and district buy supplies for their students throughout the year. By saving their receipts they can write off those purchases and receive tax breaks. Michelle Davis a fourth grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, has already purchased boxes of colored pencils, crayons, and glue sticks for each of her students.

"I probably spend $50 a month now," Davis said. "My first year I spent $100-125. I feel sorry for those first year teachers."

Davis was able to write off $800 last year from classroom materials she had to purchase with her own money. Melissa Rambaud taught kindergarten at Lincoln last year but was moved to fourth grade for the 2004-05 school year. She said she has already spent $200 in supplies and school hasn't started.

"I moved grade levels and fourth graders need totally different supplies," Rambaud said.

Both teachers will go on buying supplies even though they will not receive a tax credit.

"I don't want [the students] to do without," Davis said. "I'll just have to be more thrifty."

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