New state schools chief declares fiscal emergency

January 6, 2011 7:25:42 PM PST
Just days into the job, California's new superintendent of public instruction has declared a financial emergency.

"The law won't let me call out the National Guard," new state schools chief Tom Torlakson said. "So I'm saying to every Californian: 'Your schools need your help. And they need it now.'"

Torlakson made the remarks in Sacramento as he announced a department-wide review, saying the $18 billion in cuts to education funding during the Schwarzenegger Administration are "taking their toll." Torlakson cited 174 districts that he described as "teetering on the financial brink."

Torlakson is pushing for an extension of current taxes to help prevent further cuts.

"Continuing some of the current taxes that are in place, that the taxpayers got used to paying, that were put in place to protect schools and education, we need to do that," he said.

Contra Costa County's Mt. Diablo Unified School District is among those in deep financial trouble.

"This has been an emergency for the past three or four years" Mt. Diablo Board member Gary Eberhart said.

Next week, Mt. Diablo board members will begin considering which schools will close to trim at least $1.5 million per year from its budget. That does not include an additional $10 million in cuts the district is expected to make this year out of its $170 million budget.

School administrators around the state are anxiously awaiting the release of Governor Jerry Brown's budget next week.

"We'll find out next Monday, but we're anticipating another million dollar hit to our district" Lafayette Unified Superintendent Fred Brill said.

Despite strong financial support from the community, Brills says the district has cut $2 million from its $27 million dollar budget in the past year, and currently has a structural deficit of $1.4 million.

"We're going to feel the cuts," Brill said. "Like other districts, it's everything from class size to music and the arts, to decreasing the instructional year."