Deep and painful.

That's how West Contra Costa and John Swett school district officials are describing the local budget cuts necessary to prepare for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to slash education spending by $4 billion statewide in the next year and a half.

"This is very bad. This is dire, and I am in deep opposition to cutting these kinds of resources for education," said John Swett Superintendent Michael Roth, who is working with the district's business manager to figure out how to chop $1 million from the 1,700-student district's $13 million budget next year. "I think it's fair to say that we're going to have to look at absolutely everything we spend money on."

Both John Swett and West Contra Costa are hoping for the best but bracing for the worst as legislators wrangle with managing the state budget deficit. Student enrollment at both districts continues to dwindle, resulting in less revenue and the worst budget storm West County schools have faced in decades.

Officials estimate that because of the proposed drop in education funding at the state level, West Contra Costa must cut about $834,000 from this year's budget and $14.2 million from its approximately $300 million budget for the 2008-09 school year.

The district's situation will get even worse in the 2009-10 school year if voters reject a parcel tax measure likely to be on the June or November ballot.


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The current parcel tax, which funds athletics, library services, counselors, special education and more, generates $10 million per year and expires in June 2009.

Board members who oversee the 30,000-student district will decide today whether to approve the elimination of 11 vacant nonteaching positions effective immediately as a first step toward reducing expenditures.

"It just seems like a logical thing to do," West Contra Costa budget chief Sheri Gamba said. "You don't want to have open positions when we're looking at budget reductions."

The district also has established a hiring and overtime freeze, and officials have asked schools to finish their spending for the year by this week and hold the line on additional expenditures barring safety and emergency costs, Gamba said.

More cuts are coming, likely in the form of further staff reductions, Gamba said. She added that it is too early to know who and how many might be affected.

"We're going to try to steer the cuts away from those things that will be closest to students and as least detrimental as possible," Gamba said. "But with the large numbers we're talking about, it's going to be a large task. Services will be affected."

Both the John Swett and West Contra Costa districts would need to inform certificated employees by next month that they intend to lay off next year, which means both districts must hustle to come up with staff-reduction plans regardless of whether the state budget is finalized.

John Swett board members are scheduled to discuss a reduction in staff at today's meeting, and they likely will hold additional budget workshops to determine where else cuts should be made, Roth said. The district has about 150 full-time employees.

"The governor is calling for 10 percent cuts; we have about 100 teachers," Roth said. "I'm not saying we're cutting 10 teachers, but that would be in the ballpark."

Gamba and other West Contra Costa officials will hold a series of community meetings at various schools in the next couple weeks to get input on what programs and services the public would like to see avoid cuts. A special board meeting on the budget is scheduled for Feb. 28.

"We will be working very hard to bring a balanced budget to our community," Gamba said. "I wish there was an easy answer, but there's just not."

Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or at kwetzel @bayareanewspapers.com.

If you go

  • WHAT: The West Contra Costa Unified School District will hold a series of community meetings to solicit input on how to cut approximately $14 million from its 2008-09 budget.

  • WHEN: 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. the following days:

    Thursday -- Harding Elementary, 7230 Fairmount Ave., El Cerrito.

    Monday -- DeJean Middle School, 3400 Macdonald Ave., Richmond.

    Tuesday -- Pinole Valley High, 2900 Pinole Valley Road, Pinole.

    Feb. 13 -- Richmond High, 1250 23rd St., Richmond.

    Feb. 26 -- Hercules Middle/High, 1900 Refugio Valley Road, Hercules.

    Feb. 27 -- Murphy Elementary, 4350 Valley View Road, Richmond.

  • WHAT: A meeting of the John Swett Unified School District board; members will discuss how to reduce spending by approximately $1 million in the next school year

  • WHEN: 6:30 p.m. today

  • WHERE: School district board room, 400 Parker Ave., Rodeo.