LAFAYETTE -- The candidates for school board know that, if elected, they will face some tough decisions over the next four years. As with virtually every school system in the state, budget cuts have hit the Lafayette School District hard.
Even after making $2 million in cuts over the past three years, the district still faces a $1.4 million budget deficit, according to Superintendent Fred Brill.
Vying to be on the board that must close that gap are incumbents Teresa Gerringer and Art Kapoor and challengers David Gerson, Berch Parker and Saveth Soun.
The five candidates are running for three seats on the board. Incumbent Ann Appert is not seeking re-election.
All five say dealing with the budget crisis is the biggest issue facing the board.
"I don't foresee probably during the next term "... any balance or stability in the state budget," Gerringer said.
All candidates said the district must find new sources of revenue to preserve programs and all supported seeking an additional parcel tax, something the board has already decided to explore.
Lafayette residents currently pay more than $600 annually in parcel taxes to the Lafayette and Acalanes school districts.
Teachers and administrators have been sacrificing in the face of budget cuts to continue providing high quality education to Lafayette students, Gerringer said. A parcel tax, along with other contributions, she said, is the community's way of sacrificing.
"It's the only truly stable source of funding that we have at the local level," said Gerringer, adding she believes there are still places where the district can operate more efficiently.
Kapoor is not so certain. The district has kept cuts away from the classroom in recent years, he said, but "I don't know how long we can keep that up."
With personnel costs making up 90 percent of the district's budget, he said, the board will have to look at raising class sizes.
"As much as I don't want to do that, there aren't many options available to us," Kapoor said.
Raising class size is something Gerson, a retired tax attorney, doesn't think should happen. Cuts, he said, cannot be the main solution to the district's financial woes.
"There may be places to cut and I'm willing to look at what is possible to cut, but I don't think we'll generate enough (revenue) by cutting to really handle the size of the problem," he said.
Community support for the district is important, Gerson said, because quality schools raise property values.
The district will need to gauge how much of an additional parcel tax residents will support, said Parker, the Lafayette Police Department's youth services officer.
And if cuts have to be made, the district should engage parents on that issue as well to learn what their priorities are.
"You have to look at where can we get the most return on our money without cutting vital programs," he said.
The district should consider hiring a full- or part-time grant writer to help the district obtain supplemental funding from the state and federal government, said Soun, a teacher in the West Contra Costa County School District. If there are programs created through grants, she added, the district needs to identify ways to preserve them.
The district, she added, should also maximize its resources, or "build capacity," by identifying teachers who are experts or trained in a particular area or program and having them in turn train other teachers.