The Lafayette School District has a $3.5 million rainy-day reserve saved up since the mid-1980s. But that money might not be able to prevent the district's first layoffs in more than 35 years.

In a school board study session Tuesday night, staff members presented the possibility of cutting the equivalent of 19 full-time positions to balance the district's budget following the governor's proposed budget reductions. The school district would lose five additional teachers because of declining enrollment.

The 19 positions do not include full-time classroom teachers. Instead, they reduce the number of hours worked by counselors, psychologists, administrators, janitors, science instructors, music teachers, technology specialists and library aides. The proposal also cuts 60 percent of funding for after-school sports.

"It would be nice if we could wake up tomorrow and see that this is a bad dream," said board member David Stromberg. "We are left with the painful task of balancing the budget."

Dozens of teachers attended the meeting, wearing T-shirts printed with, "It's a rainy day, use the reserve fund for our teachers."

Lafayette residents have paid into the reserve for years, said teachers' union president Meritt Davies, so they deserve to use it to insulate themselves from the effects of state budget cuts.

"We feel strongly that any reduction in staff to balance the budget is a mistake," Davies said. "Save our staff and consider the reserves."

Superintendent Frank Tom said it's not that simple.

Lafayette School District must submit three years of budget projections to the county for approval, so while eating into reserves might get the district through a year, it would need a different plan to get through the next two.

There are two other problems with using the rainy-day reserve, he said. First, the school board had adopted a policy that it would only use the interest the fund earned, not spend the $3.5 million.

Also, the district had considered using the money to pay for the increased costs of retiree health care as more teachers reach retirement age, an amount expected to reach $5.6 million.

"Ultimately, my approach and the board's approach is to look at revenue enhancement," Tom said. "There wasn't a single voice (at Tuesday's meeting) that said anything less than, 'What can we do to help maintain these programs?'"

Representatives from several parents' clubs said at Tuesday's meeting that they were willing to raise money and write checks to avoid layoffs.

The Lafayette Arts and Science Foundation is ready to step up its assistance to programs consistent with its mission, said foundation president Anne Granlund.

"Everyone in the community is aware of the seriousness of the situation this year for both districts in Lafayette, and we will certainly do everything we can as a community to assist in every way we can," Granlund said. "I think that almost goes without saying."

Reach Paul Thissen at 925-943-8163 or pthissen@bayareanewsgroup.com.