Tuesday, April 8, 2008

As budget cuts come to light, worries ease


Hundreds of teachers, students and parents packed the Santa Barbara School District Board of Education meeting last night where the main event on the agenda was $4 million in proposed budget cuts to the 2008-2009 budget.
But before the public comment period could commence, Deputy Superintendent Eric D. Smith presented a fiscal recovery plan that seemed to cast a spell over the audience and the board, leaving the latter, which is generally outspoken when it comes to cuts, relatively at ease.

By the time Smith wrapped up, the audience had shrunk significantly and the board mostly praised his proposals, which eliminated millions in expenditures by proposing large cuts like three administrative positions (a savings of $382,00), to placing district letterhead on a computer template instead of ordering letterhead stationery (a savings of $3,000), while sparing most educational programs.
“We appreciate your analyses and you finding all this money,” said board member Bob Noel. “I don’t see a lot of pain.”
Smith said the need for millions in immediate budget cuts became clear when the state proposed a 10 percent blanket cut to state-funded services, including K-12 education, last January.
He said the district’s then $1.5 million deficit ballooned to $6 million — a number that is also partially tied to declining enrollment, which is expected to hit the secondary district especially hard next year with about 360 fewer students.
But as the financial picture began looking grim, the district hired Smith, who came on board and quickly identified $1.5 million in one-time savings for this year that included minor adjustments to things like health benefits, deferred maintenance, workers compensation rates and insurance rebates.
Continuing with the theme, Smith dug into the 2008-2009 budget with the same idea in mind, eliminating the “low hanging fruit” as he called it.
Last night Smith and District Superintendent Brian Sarvis outlined $5.3 million in possible cuts, which they said were developed after meeting with a number of administrators and employees at various school sites.
Because there were $5.3 million in cuts identified and the board is faced with cutting $4 million for next year, their immediate task is to select what they don’t want to see cut.
The majority of the proposed cuts are adjustments similar to this year’s, with the exception of a few that the board took issue with and are likely to squash on April 22 when they’re expected to fine-tune the cuts.
The most controversial cut on Smith’s proposed list was the reduction of 7.4 full-time teachers who instruct electives courses at junior high schools. This could save the district $577,000, but would make a big dent in already sparse arts and music programs.
All of the board members agreed they would remove this item from play, and instead of the 7.4 teaching positions, increase it to eight full-time positions, which would cost an additional $46,000.
At press time, the board had not yet voted whether to remove this from the list, but it appeared extremely likely they would do so.
As each board member said they would take the cuts to junior high electives off the table, the crowd broke out in raucous applause and slowly thinned out.
Another hot-button item is whether or not to eliminate 9th grade class size reduction, which restricts class sizes in English and mathematics. By reducing class sizes, the district naturally has to hire additional teachers in those topics, a practice that if eliminated could cut $571,000 in expenditures.
Board member Nancy Harter said she hopes to take this proposal off the table at the April 22 meeting.
“I think there are a number of unquantifiable benefits to that class size reduction,” she said. “From my perspective it’s a value added.”
Other cuts that are expected to be discussed on April 22 is a proposed replacement of high school librarians with uncertificated employees and changing a staffing formula at San Marcos High School.
While many of the cuts that will eventually be made don’t deal directly with programs or students, Smith said in a district where the majority of expenditures are made on staff, cuts are always difficult.
“Anytime you go through this process people will be affected,” he said. “Every cut ultimately effects the classroom but ultimately we’re doing a fairly good job there.”
The fiscal recovery plan is available at www.sbsdk12.org.

1 comment:

a parent said...

The planned school budget cuts will result in pain, loss, suffering. Our school's should be busy serving students from 6am 'til dawn, not with dark cooridors after 2 at the junior high level, or 3 at elementary schools. There's a big leadership void, a disconnect at the District level worsenedd by the lack of commitment by too many administrators -- such as Paul Turnbull, who violates the public trust by using each position to advance to the next: 5 positions in 5 years and now leaving for Santa Ynez? Gzee, what's newcomer Sarvis thinking when he hires? or our elected Trustees, to let Sarvis make repeated hiring mistakes? Those in charge simply don't get it, don't understand how to develop successful students and programs, and won't listen even when hundreds pack their chambers to try to increase their awareness. They must be too comfortable or something.

Are they not aware that students already are on a 6 period day forcing them to the streets around 2, because they already cut the 7 period day? Do they fail to remember that librarian positions were already cut to the bare bones and now they want to cut the remaining few we have? Don't they know that in past years they cut developmental music instruction programs depriving students of the opportunity to learn and succeed? Oh, and what about class size? In 9th grade there were over 40 in Honor Physics, and in pre-calc and almost every other class but for the Super-GATE English class of hand picked students. The shortfalls are many.