While the district is deciding how to cut an estimated $1.2 million from its $23 million budget, officials are also dealing with declining enrollment.
Enrollment has dropped by almost 150 students in the last two years -- currently, there are 3,143 students enrolled -- for a loss of $500,000 in state funding this school year alone.
The decline seems to be slowing, but officials are still concerned.
The district estimates it will be down another 55 students for the 2008-09 school year. State funding is decided by average daily attendance, so fewer students overall means less funding. This is on top of the trimming that has to take place because the governor is proposing a $4.5 billion cut in education funding.
This week, the Walnut Creek school board held two special meetings, one to discuss what to cut and another about the enrollment decline. Originally, the board had planned to do a census to get a better idea of what the student population would be in the future. But budget cuts have now taken priority.
The board needs to "realize that the priorities of this year have changed," Superintendent Patty Wool said at a board meeting Thursday. "I don't think we are completely out of the woods, but now we are in other, deeper woods."
Wool is meeting with Walnut Creek preschool parents and showing them a short movie about the district in an attempt to lure parents who may be thinking about private school.
"I think we are doing things this year to make sure we go forward and not backward," Wool said.
Because of the decline, next year's budget already cuts four teachers and two aides. But those cuts are just the beginning.
The board will have to make a final decision on the other $1.2 million in reductions at its March 3 meeting. By March 15, Walnut Creek will send notices to all employees who may be laid off.
The board met with employees of the district on Monday to brainstorm what could be cut. Ideas ranged from cutting back on instructional coaches to allowing larger class sizes, which would mean fewer teachers.
Second-grade teacher Shelley Pattison said teachers are concerned that fewer resources will ultimately mean more work. And cuts will be carried "on the backs of teachers," she said.
Melanie Brunner, who is PTA president at Walnut Creek Intermediate, said the cuts are devastating and it scares her for the future of California education.
"Now we are sitting at a place where we are trying to cut something that we are still trying to improve," Brunner said.
Parents can pitch in by contacting legislators and urging them not to cut education, she said. Parents may also have to volunteer their time and possibly supplies, she said.
Brunner worries that more parents will turn to private school, which would cause even more of a decline in enrollment in the district.
Another concern for the district is daily attendance. On average, attendance has fallen about 1 percent per month since August, according to district reports. That 1 percent can mean more than $100,000. And unless kids are sick, district officials say they need to be in class so that they don't lose even more funding.
In this budget situation, parents are asking "how can we help you?" said Art Clarke, school board member.
The answer? "Send your kids to school."
Reach Elisabeth Nardi at 952-2617 or firstname.lastname@example.org.