In the fall, parents, students and teachers in the Mt. Diablo school district can expect bigger class sizes and fewer familiar faces in the halls.

The school board voted Tuesday night to cut nearly 40 jobs, including those of 28 teachers, a vice principal and six high school secretaries next school year.

Along with other reductions approved for 2008-09, the cuts will save $7 million, or roughly 2 percent of the $300 million spending plan.

"The bottom line is critical," trustee Dick Allen said. "I wouldn't cut any of these items if I had a choice."

The cuts are in addition to $3 million in cuts approved earlier this year, and more are expected. The board needs to shave another $5 million to $7 million from the budget to keep the East Bay's second-largest district in the black, Superintendent Gary McHenry said.

"What is put upon us is unreasonable," he said, "but we have to do it."

Like other districts, Mt. Diablo is spiraling into crisis mode as the state's fortunes continue to fall. On Wednesday, the state Legislative Analyst's Office said that California's deficit is $1.5 billion larger than when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a $14.5 billion gap in January and proposed sweeping cuts in education and other public services.

While the Legislature debates exactly where to cut costs, school districts have begun making reductions to meet the March 15 legal deadline for notifying teachers who may lose their jobs for the next school year.

On Tuesday, the Mt. Diablo school board authorized nearly 30 layoff notices by raising class sizes.

Increasing the ratio of students to teachers from 29.5 to 30 at middle schools will eliminate roughly four full-time positions and save nearly $240,000 a year.

Increasing the high school staffing ratio from 30.5 to 31 students per teacher will eliminate the equivalent of 5.4 positions and save nearly $300,000 a year. The board eliminated another 17 teaching position to save $940,000.

Low-performing schools took a particularly big hit. Mt. Diablo High School will lose a vice principal. Glenbrook Middle School will lose some bilingual aides.

Both schools, along with Oak Grove and Riverview middle schools, also will see cutbacks in campus supervisor time.

The board originally approved the positions to give a boost to lower achieving campuses. Board member Gary Eberhart said he loathed taking that support away and voted against cutting the vice principal job. He and board member Paul Strange dissented to cutting campus supervisors.

"This is one of the items I can't support," Eberhart said.

Not all fiscal recommendations involved layoffs.

The district had planned to set aside $1.1 million to cover the rising cost of post-retirement employee benefits. But Dick Nicoll, an assistant superintendent who now oversees the budget, said the district could suspend the contribution for a year and use the money to fill the gap.

McHenry said the district might avoid a fine for employing uncredentialed teachers. Taking that expense off the books will free up about $1.4 million.

"We might not have to pay anything," McHenry said.

The board will meet again Monday. More jobs will hang in the balance as the district edges toward the goal of cutting $14 million.

"It's going to be more difficult to find the positions and the money as we move forward," he said.

Shirley Dang covers education. Reach her at 925-977-8418 or sdang@bayareanewsgroup.com.

IF YOU GO

The next Mt. Diablo school board meeting and budget hearing will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday at 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord.