County education leaders, representing a half million students and 55,000 employees, called today for lawmakers to give school districts local control over budgeting and spending to soften the impact of the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis – and to better ensure that students graduate from high school ready for work or college. The Orange County District Superintendents’ Organization, which includes 28 district superintendents as well as the county superintendent of schools, held a news conference to unveil reform measures designed to permanently allow school boards and communities to determine spending priorities based on their most pressing local needs. Specifically, the group called for permanent local control over restricted spending and an overhaul of state and federal mandates. "As educational leaders, we want to be part of the solution to this budget crisis, as opposed to sitting on the sidelines," said William M. Habermehl, Orange County Superintendent of Schools. "We’re not here to whine and moan. Instead, we’re here to offer specific recommendations to Sacramento and Washington for tangible economic relief without additional cost to our taxpayers. To get that relief, we need control at the local level." School chiefs in Orange County are well situated to issue the call for reform, overseeing complex organizations that are operating at 2005 funding levels as the cost of doing business continues to rise. The superintendents estimate that from the 2008-09 school year through 2010-11, their budgets will have suffered a combined loss of more than $850 million – and that number continues to grow. Meanwhile, having to comply with the state’s extensive categorical regulations is burdensome and wasteful, said IUSD Superintendent Gwen Gross. Granting meaningful flexibility, she said, would allow school boards and administrators to craft programs that match available resources directly with the needs of local students. “California now has strict performance standards for our schools to meet, but the state government still feels compelled to tell us how to use our dollars locally,” Dr. Gross said. “It's like they lay down railroad tracks for us, and then blame us for where the train ends up.” "School districts are managing their money really well," County Superintendent Habermehl noted. "We are making the tough budget decisions that every other big corporation in the private sector is making. The difference is we can’t scale back on our main mission.