“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
Those words, from “Popeye” cartoon character J. Wellington Wimpy, have been on Debbie Brenner’s lips a lot these days.
Brenner has prepared the ’s annual budget for 25 years, and says the state of California is acting much like Wimpy by asking school districts to provide services that the state won't fund until long after the fact.
District superintendent Patrick Sweeney put it another way:
“The state is saying ‘You need to pay employees on time … and you better go out and borrow that money … and by the way, you’ve got to pay the interest,’” Sweeney said at Thursday night’s regular meeting of the district board of trustees.
Brenner, the district's longtime assistant superintendent for business affairs, told the board that she’s usually “pretty sure that what we see in the ‘May revise’ (of the state budget) is what we’re going to get.”
But this year, Brenner said, “there are so many what-ifs.”
For one thing, although the law stipulates that the budget must be approved by June 15, last year lawmakers couldn’t agree until Oct. 8.
For another, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget relies on a popular vote to extend a group of temporary taxes that went into law five years ago.
And then there are the three major handicaps with which local districts continue to grapple, according to Brenner’s presentation to the board:
- Low levels of funding.
- Volatility of funding: “Year-to-year funding levels are totally unpredictable.”
- Uncertainty of funding: “Estimates of funding are wildly inaccurate from January to May to budget enactment and beyond.”
The best outcome would still see Napa schools funded at “not one dollar more” than in previous years, Brenner said.
And that's already much less than the district is entitled to get from the state, she added:
“We’re losing over $1,200 per (student) in monies we should be receiving,” Brenner said.
On May 15, the district laid off more than 40 teachers, including one who was recently honored for her work with special-education students, said teachers union representative Cindy Watter, a Napa High School English teacher who has served on both the school board and Napa City Council in earlier decades.
Music programs in the schools have also been cut, although a by the has met its $85,000 goal to preserve band classes, according to foundation trustees.