School district officials across the state are wrestling with the fallout over a controversial new law that bars teacher layoffs for a year even amid deep financial uncertainty.
The law, passed at the last minute with no public debate as part of the budget package in late June, requires districts to maintain this year's level of teachers and programs in the upcoming 2011-12 school year. This means that even if funding drops, school boards and superintendents will be prevented from making mid-year cuts to campus programs.
The law also restricts fiscal oversight of district budgets by county offices of education, which have had that authority for two decades.
Education officials have denounced the law as a stunning blow to local budget control and said it could drive more districts into financial insolvency. More than 140 districts are in financial jeopardy, according to the state Education Department, after three years of reductions totaling $18 billion to the K-12 budget -- nearly $3,000 per student.
"It's extraordinarily bad policy," said Ron Bennett, president of School Services of California, a school finance consulting firm in Sacramento. "Taking away local control and fiscal oversight is a huge departure from best practices that puts districts in harm's way."
But Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Assn., said the law would give a well-deserved respite to teachers, who have suffered 30,000 layoffs in the last few years. The union backed the bill but did not initiate it, he said.
"Teachers have taken too many hits in the last few years," he said.
On Friday, fiscal experts with county education offices met in Sacramento to analyze the law and hammer out a "common message" for districts on how to deal with it, according to Dave Gordon, Sacramento County schools superintendent.