Districts prepare for 'worst-case' scenarios without tax extension

FRESNO, Calif.

Without an extension of those taxes, the state will have to cut another $12 billion from the budget Schools will be among the hardest hit, and some are considering drastic measures to stay afloat.

Budget battles at the state Capitol may seem far away from classrooms in the Central Valley, but the debate right now could drastically change what happens in Valley schools.

Cuts are already coming and administrators say students are in danger.

"We're in severe danger of a huge spike in retention loss and dropout rates," said Fresno County Office of Education superintendent Larry Powell.

Powell says his schools are already losing about $350 per student. But if the state legislature doesn't let voters decide on an extension of tax increases, and if the voters don't approve the increases, the district would lose even more -- about $1000 per student.

The cuts have nearly every school district in the state looking at increasing class sizes.

Many districts outside of Fresno are also considering shrinking the 180-day school calendar, possibly to as few as 150 days of school. They're also on the verge of cuts to extracurricular activities, and classes for art, music, and drama.

"You're down basically to what's required by law and that's math, language arts, science and social studies," said Powell.

Hundreds of teachers will be out of work as well.

The Fresno Unified school district is already planning to not replace about 250 retiring teachers. The district also sent out pink slips to more than 250 teachers, while the FCOE sent out 26 more. A tax extension could save those jobs.

"In all likelihood, we'd reinstate the vast majority, if not all of those positions that received the pink slip notices," said FUSD deputy superintendent and chief financial officer Ruth Quinto.

Polls show a majority of California voters support the tax increases. But anti-tax groups are suspicious of the proposed five-year bump in what workers pay the state.

"A couple years ago, they said they were going to increase our sales tax by 1% and increase our state income tax by 1/4%, but they said, 'Don't worry. This is temporary, just to get us out of a bind,'" said Chris Mathys, of the Valley Taxpayers Coalition. "What Brown's trying to do now is to make these taxes permanent."

Valley school districts say they're planning for the worst case scenario already.

At the FCOE, that includes hoping volunteers and businesses can fill the gaps with their time and money.

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