Teachers, parents and students filled every seat and lined the aisles at City Hall during an emotion-filled meeting of the San Leandro Unified School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday night as the board discussed another round of deep budget cuts.
A procession of 24 speakers pleaded with and berated the board late into the night not to make the proposed cuts to sports and music programs, and layoffs of librarians, counselors and art, music and physical education specialists.
"We are at war," San Leandro High School senior Bianca Luna told the board. "The battlefield -- our schools. The bombs are budget cuts. The victims are the students."
The San Leandro district is entering a fifth consecutive year of budget cuts. The board already has approved about $1.4 million in cuts from its 2012-13 budget. About $11 million, or 13 percent of the district's revenues, has been taken by the state since 2007, board president Morgan Mack-Rose said.
To make matters worse, if tax measures proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown fail to pass in November, the district must make an additional $2.5 million in cuts in January, midway through the school year. The proposed midyear cuts put about 20 positions on the chopping block.
All the speakers came before the board to support employees at risk of layoffs and programs on the list of cuts.
John Muir Middle School Principal Belen Magers held up a poster depicting a fictional San Leandro student named John Bancroft. She then ripped the poster to pieces as interim assistant principal Stacy Kaplan read off the proposed cuts.
A few speakers ran over the two-minute time limit, causing Mack-Rose to cut them off -- to jeers from the crowd.
"We are parents, too," Mack-Rose said, urging the crowd to have compassion for the trustees. She placed the blame for the district's financial woes squarely on Sacramento. "This is not of our making. We didn't choose this."
Trustee Carmen Sullivan said school districts across the country are in a "Great Depression" and asked that people band together to save their schools. She urged people to form a movement similar to Occupy Wall Street and instead occupy Sacramento.
Mack-Rose suggested that the California Teachers Association should organize a statewide general strike. "It's the only way to get Sacramento to change," she said.
Earlier in the meeting, trustees heard the results of a February telephone poll of 402 voters about whether they would support a parcel tax that would raise about $3 million a year for San Leandro schools.
Unless a parcel tax was on the June ballot, and was approved then, the money would not affect the proposed budget cuts for 2012-13 that were discussed Tuesday night.
Consultant Brad Senden told the board that 58.7 percent of those polled were in favor of a parcel tax before being informed of the district's financial situation; 63.8 percent were in favor after being informed. The percentages dropped to 59.6 percent when participants were told the tax would be $59 per year for six years on residential parcels, and 2 cents per square foot on nonresidential parcels. It further dropped to 57.8 percent for a flat rate option of $124 per parcel.
"These are really good numbers, but we need to have two-thirds -- extraordinary numbers -- to move forward," Senden said, adding that the percentage should be closer to 70 before the district should go to the ballot. A parcel tax requires approval by two-thirds of voters.
In public comment, Mayor Stephen Cassidy urged the board to take a parcel tax to the voters in November. "As go our schools, so goes our city," Cassidy said.
Cassidy said the city would not have competing measures on the ballot in November but could not guarantee that would be the case in 2014. He urged the seven school board members to get out and make an effort to shift public opinion before November. "Have confidence in your ability to state the case and convince the voters," he said.
Trustees all agreed that a parcel tax measure on the ballot was not feasible for June but said they would support one for November.
The board must approve its contingency budget before a March 15 deadline to issue layoff notices. Its next meeting is March 6.
Jason Sweeney covers San Leandro. Contact him at 510-293-2469. Follow him at Twitter.com/Jason_Sweeney.