Budget crisis trickling down

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By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

Fallout from the California budget crunch dominated yesterday's Tuolumne County Special Education Unit board meeting.

"This is the most serious crisis we've ever met," TCSEU Board President John Pendley said of the fiscal emergency brought on by the state's $34 billion deficit.

Operating on a tight budget, TCSEU spent $3.5 million last year to provide mental health and education services to 934 students.

The agency also assesses students to determine if they need special education services.

The state's financial crisis is adding more pressure, as all branches of education face dramatic cuts.

Although special education has its own funding area in each school district's budget, districts say it's never enough, and that special education costs encroach on their general funds.

One glimmer of hope surfaced at yesterday's meeting, however: Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and a budget conference committee proposed restoring Assembly Bill 3632 funds.

AB 3632, passed in 1984, funnels state money to individual counties to pay for outpatient student health services and non-public school placements for students.

Last year, before the cutbacks, Tuolumne County's placement program cost $176,962. This year it is projected to cost $221,400.

Gov. Gray Davis postponed state reimbursements to among others the AB 3632 program, forcing the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors to put special needs programs on the list of county cutbacks.

Because of the postponed reimbursements to counties, school districts are on their own paying for placement of emotionally disturbed students in residential care facilities, sometimes in other states.

However, Steinberg's proposal would restore AB 3632 money to the state budget through higher income tax on the top 2 percent of taxpayers, and would backfill the postponed reimbursements.

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The Union Democrat
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