http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2009/05/29/school-board-approves-reduced-budget


Danville Express

Newsfront - May 29, 2009

School board approves reduced budget

Furlough days, concessions requested from teacher's union

by Geoff Gillette

With the failure May 19 of the statewide ballot initiatives, officials with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District met in special session the next day to discuss the ramifications of the defeat and how the district will handle the expected loss of another $6 million in revenues.

School board members were briefed on the situation by school superintendent Steve Enoch, who said that even with the May 5 approval of Measure C, the district remains in difficult financial circumstances.

"The revised budget from the governor is going to take another $6.5 million away from us. We're operating with $15 million less than we thought when this school year started," he explained.

Enoch laid out two possible courses of action for the district, based on the most recent budget revisions from Sacramento. The first option, projected out over four years, shows cuts across the board. At the elementary level, class sizes would be held at 20:1 ratios for K-3 and ninth grade through this year, but would shift to 24:1 in subsequent years. Middle and high school classes would be increased to 30:1 ratios.

In addition, elementary teachers would lose one specialized preparation period. This affects art, science and physical education instructors as each school would be allowed to determine which of the three programs they would follow and which would be cut.

Other reductions would come in the number of special education para-educators, grounds maintenance and custodial personnel. Items eliminated would include counselors, librarians, fifth-grade instrumental music, pool heating in January and February, and school crossing guards.

The second scenario is contingent on securing concessions from the various bargaining units representing employees of the district. In that scenario, many of the same cuts would occur, but would be pushed out by more than a year in order to preserve teacher's jobs.

If nothing changes in regards to funding levels, both scenarios would see the district losing money by the end of next year and completely exhausting its reserves by the end of the 2012-13 school year.

Enoch said despite the somewhat gloomy forecast, the budget they presented represents the best plan they have for the use of the funds they have.

"I actually believe that option 1 clearly represents the benefits we have received by passing Measure C. We would clearly be in a world of hurt without that," he explained.

School board members were frustrated by the depth of the cuts before them but many felt that adopting the more stringent spending plan of option 1, then directing staff to begin negotiations with the bargaining units was the better course.

The negotiations are expected to center on voluntary furlough days for the entire district. Statistics provided by the district showed that for each furlough day, they would save an estimated $760,000. The spending plan being considered would have two furlough days next year, three the following year, and four the year after that.

Board member Paul Gardner gave his support to seeking the furlough days from the unions.

"Two furlough days will save some significant jobs. Total compensation cost of the district is 88 percent. The cost to employees of two furlough days would be less than 1 percent of an average employee's compensation. We're talking about companies out there that are cutting salaries by 10-20 percent," he said.

Board President Bill Clarkson agreed.

"We need to be heroes to our children and our fellow employees. Losing 2 or 3 or 5 percent is nothing compared to the pain of losing your job, of not having a way to pay the mortgage," he stated.

For the most part, the board was in unison over the plan to adopt the budget, but member Greg Marvel questioned the loss of the specialized prep times at the elementary level and called on his fellow board members to reverse that cut.

"That provides an extra level of specialized instruction that helps give the kids that extra boost in the elementaries that they will need in middle and high school," he said.

When Marvel was unable to get support from the board to reinstate the prep period, he moved that they approve the option 1 budget and immediately begin negotiations with the bargaining units in order to get the concessions needed to extend the programs as long as possible.

During the public hearing, more than half a dozen people spoke out about the issue. Measure C campaign co-director Denise Jennison called on the board to make sure amid all the program cuts and financial woes that the public is aware that Measure C is helping the situation.

"If we want to maintain our credibility with the community, you need to make it clear to this community just what that $6.8 million is buying them," she stated. "I believe we have an obligation to let them know how it is helping."

Jennison also asked the board to work with teachers, staff and parents in a unified fashion and avoid pitting departments against each other in a quest for funding.

"We're a 'unified' school district," she said. "We still need to be unified when things get better."

After the public hearing, the board voted unanimously to approve option 1 and directed staff to begin the negotiations immediately.

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