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Schools Funding Picture Blurred
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With a bond issue looming and multiple scenarios circulating for state funding, the future of school finances is uncertain at best.

"The governor has said he wants to take the state out of funding school transportation and Escalon currently gets about $750,000 from the state for that," noted Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa. "We are using that $750,000 plus close to another $200,000 to finance it."

If that cut comes through, Escalon would have to find a way to continue providing the bus transportation utilizing other funds. Putting a 'pay to ride' system in place isn't really feasible here, Costa said, as it might be in other districts.

"You cannot charge students (to ride the bus) who are on the free or reduced lunch program and a majority of our kids that ride the bus are those free and reduced lunch kids," he explained.

A reduction in transportation might be made, or cuts would have to come in other areas, Costa said, should the state get out of the transportation business.

But with the Governor's proposed 2012-2013 budget just out, there's really no way to tell what will 'stick' and what will be thrown away, said Costa.

"There's just a lot of uncertainty in the budget," Costa agreed. "A lot of the funding for schools will be dependent on the bond next November. If that passes, probably we won't have cuts."

Whether taxpayers can afford any more taxes, though, and would support the schools with another bond issue, remains to be seen.

Also part of the budget plan is a weighted student funding program, Costa said, which the district is still analyzing, and the move to transitional kindergarten, allowing some students to attend kindergarten for two years. The governor, however, has not funded the transitional kindergarten program in his proposal.

"We have a school board meeting on Jan. 17 and I will talk to the board then about what I know but the legislature won't look at this (budget plan) until February or March, so this is just the beginning," Costa said.

Locally, the school board is working on a bond issue proposal, which could go before voters here later this year as well. That would cover needed modernization work at the district's aging campuses. A realignment of school district trustee boundaries and the manner in which trustees are elected is on the agenda for possible action at the Jan. 17 meeting as well.

Costa said taking care of local items, as well as looking to the future with the district budget, is keeping school officials busy.

"We're making a budget on a lot of assumptions," he said.

Costa and EUSD business official Kelly Robinson are scheduled to attend a Tuesday meeting in Sacramento hosted by School Services of California that will provide an overview of the governor's budget proposal so they will have up to date information to provide to the board later that evening.

"It's sad that we're at a point now that, if our cuts are minimal, we're happy," Costa said.