California's $19 billion deficit has meant both the governor and legislature have looked toward cutting programs and delaying payments on those that survive. And local governments are left holding the bag, unable to pay their own obligations in a timely fashion while they wait for checks from Sacramento.


"It looks very scary," Laura Carevic, the Hesperia Unified School District's Director of Fiscal Services, said Tuesday, after a grim presentation at Monday night's school board meeting. "And that's probably the best word I can use."


The state has currently given the HUSD, the Victor Valley's single largest employer, a stack of IOUs in excess of $23 million.


"And of course, you have to have a balanced budget and a three percent [cash] reserve, but we don't even have a three percent reserve," Carevic said. "Yes, we've had tough times, but we've never had anything like this before."


Although the district has already struck cost-cutting deals with two of its employee groups -- management and non-teaching "classified" staff -- the HUSD is still in the middle of contentious negotiations with the largest group of employees, its teachers. (Ninety percent of the HUSD's general fund goes to salary and benefits, leaving the district with few other places where it's allowed to cut.)


"Not only do we have to cover $2.2 [million]," the HUSD's current remaining budget gap, "we also have to $4.5 million in reserve to have a budget that the county will accept."


And then there are the funds that the state is allegedly still paying to local governments, many of which have been shifted to months after they were originally to be paid, throwing local governments' own bill payments out of synch.


"In some cases, they're even deferring it to the next fiscal year. It doesn't do any good to get a promise of a payment," Carevic said. "You can get a promise all day long to get some money, but unless you have the money in your hand, you can't pay your bills."


Under normal circumstances, the district would get a loan from San Bernardino County to cover these short-term budget gaps.


"But because of our budget issues and our negative budget balance, the county is not very supportive of that."


The alternative, then is a loan from the state, ironically enough.


"Which has a lot of implications. It's not something a district always wants to do," Carevic said. "They will basically tell you what cuts they want to make. The [school] board loses their authority. ... They care about whether or not you have a balanced budget and whether you can sustain that. It's their money ... so they will impose their will on you."


Although the budget crisis will end someday, Carevic doesn't want to venture a guess as to when the state and the HUSD will see those better days.


"It's going to be tight for a while," she said. "As far as a recovery from this, I think it's going to be a long time."


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star