Budget cuts will hurt schools, in-home care in SLO County

Bus transportation money is hit hard, particularly for small and rural districts

clambert@thetribunenews.comDecember 14, 2011 

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Community college and university students in San Luis Obispo County will likely see the cost of classes increase, residents will have reduced access to in-home care, and local school districts may have to make more cuts because of a loss of transportation funding as a result of deeper state budget cuts.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced this week a plan to impose $980 million in midyear cuts to a dozen programs starting in January.

School districts

Brown’s early declaration is good and bad news for the county’s 10 school districts. K-12 school districts will face a $79.6 million reduction in general funding and a $248 million elimination of bus transportation money.

But that amount is far less than the $1.5 billion that school districts faced losing under lawmakers’ June budget.

For San Luis Obispo County school districts, that equates to a $1.7 million cut in transportation funding and about $500,000 in general funding.

County schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said local school districts, which have slashed more than $50 million over the past three years, could be forced to make further reductions in personnel.

“It wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” he said of the midyear cuts. “We’re not rebuilding, we’re not restoring.” The transportation cuts will disproportionately impact smaller, more rural districts, such as Shandon Joint Unified, which spends a larger proportion of its budget busing students to and from school, Crocker noted.

The Shandon district, with about 312 students, will lose about $81,000 in state transportation funds — more than half the money the state gives the district for school bus funding.

Shandon Superintendent Rodney Wallace said he spent two hours brainstorming with staff on Wednesday to reduce bus routes, but doesn’t believe doing so is possible.

“The concern is that our students who live way out in rural areas, their attendance would drop, which then would hurt us financially,” he said.

The Lucia Mar district will see the largest cut to transportation funding — estimated at about $500,000 by district officials — but will use reserve funds set aside specifically for midyear cuts to fill the gap.

However, noted Raynee Daley, assistant superintendent of business services, K-12 districts could face deeper cuts next fall if voters reject Brown’s $7 billion plan to raise sales taxes as well as income taxes on the wealthy.

Higher education

Cuesta College will lose $605,000 in state funds, plus $100,000 in expected revenue from a fee increase taking place later than anticipated.

Students will also be expected to pay an additional $10 per unit starting in the summer session — bringing the cost to $46 a unit.

The college expects to make up the $705,000 in a number of ways: a voluntary salary reduction by Cuesta College President Gil Stork and the college’s three vice presidents at about a $20,000 savings; not filling unoccupied positions to save about $250,000; and reducing operational budgets and delaying purchases for $30,000.

The remaining $405,000 gap will be filled with one-time contingency money the college was able to stave off using last year, Stork said.

Additional layoffs are not on the table, Stork said.

Brown’s plan to cut funding to the California State University system by $100 million means a $5.3 million reduction in funding to Cal Poly, said Larry Kelley, vice president for administration and finance. A fee increase approved recently by the CSU board of trustees will provide about $5.8 million to Cal Poly, effectively filling that gap, he said.

However, the state has reduced funding to the university by about 43 percent in the past four years, and students and tuition now pay for about 60 percent of operating expenses at Cal Poly.

Kelley said students will be able to participate in an advisory vote early next year on a new Cal Poly fee that would start at $160 per quarter next fall, rise to $210 per quarter in fall 2013 and to $260 per quarter in fall 2014.

County services

Lee Collins, director of the county’s Department of Social Services, said In-Home Supportive Services faces “a potentially devastating” cut.

The budget passed by the Legislature and signed by Brown included a “trigger” that calls for a 20 percent reduction in the hours of service authorized for program participants.

He said the program in the county takes care of 1,605 individuals a month, each of whom averaged 104 hours of service monthly. That would drop to 80 hours, he said.

IHSS, he said, helps people in need with cooking, shopping, cleanup, laundry, feeding, dressing, assistance with walking and assistance with bowel and bladder care — “a spectrum of services that span the simplest domestic chores to the much more personal kind of service.”

Federal, state and county governments each pay a portion of the costs — 50 percent, 34.5 percent, and 17.5 percent, respectively.

“A 20 percent cut in hours,” Collins wrote in an email to The Tribune, “would have an immediate impact on the health and safety of these individuals, as there would be fewer of these medically necessary domestic and personal services available to them.”

“You may hear some people sound the alarm about how many of these folks will end up in institutional care — and undoubtedly some will — but it is much more likely that the vast majority will simply lead lives that are less healthy,” Collins wrote.

Proposed cuts to IHSS, Collins noted, were enjoined by a U.S. district court on Dec. 1. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled in federal court on Jan. 19.

Meanwhile, library patrons shouldn’t notice a difference as a result of the elimination of state grants to local libraries.

County Library Director Brian Reynolds said he was expecting a $41,000 cut, but was hoping for no drop at all in revenues. If he has to cut, he will do it by not filling positions.

Tribune staff writers AnnMarie Cornejo, Bob Cuddy and Patrick Pemberton, and The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

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