I could have a nice steak and lobster dinner if I got a nickel every time someone asked me this spring how they're supposed to create a budget for the next school year before they get actual numbers from the state. All public school districts and charter schools must create and approve a budget for the 2009-2010 school year, which then gets submitted to CDE. After its been submitted and approved, it takes a formal process to amend it and that can't be done more than once or twice.
So what's the problem? It's the ripple effect. The General Assembly determines the figures for each of the categories of K-12 education through the annual School Finance Act bill. Their own rules require that bill to be introduced by the end of March. But they extended that deadline again this year. You see they were still working on the amount of cuts to make to last year's budget when the deadline loomed.
Before settling on a 2008-2009 rescission amount, the Legislature had to know how had the state's budget deficit really was. The figures were changing almost daily, but no one liked what they were seeing. After having already done the "easy" cuts in the past years (depleting cash funds and moving the state's June payday back to July 1) some serious budget cuts had to be made this year.
When I was asked by charter school leaders when they'd know the 2009-2010 budget amounts, my response was, "May 6th." That's the last day of this year's Legislative session. Now obviously, charter schools had to submit their approved budgets to their authorizer a month or two before May 6th, so they had to use their best judgment without actually knowing the actual numbers.
On top of not having actual revenue figures, charter schools (and all public school districts), don't know how much of what the Legislature approves will be rescinded next spring when House and Senate members return to hear about the budget deficit at that point in time. Given all the bills with fiscal notes being approved this session, it could be even worse than this year's deficit.
Another problem for charter school leaders this year has been the delay in getting Charter School Capital Construction funds. Typically charter schools get a check in January. This year they haven't gotten the money yet and that means it's still a few weeks off.
In light of all this, and the gloomy projections for the upcoming school year, charter schools aren't giving any salary increases and they're looking in every nook and cranny to make cuts. In addition to normal school operating costs, charter schools pay for their facilities with their per pupil revenue, unlike school districts that have access to tax funds with voter approval.
The good thing about charter schools is that they can make adjustments more easily and they tend to run entrepeneurial systems any way. But everyone is thinking creatively this year and having conversations unlike any they've had in the past.