BYRON -- The Byron school district has taken a special approach to the looming state budget cuts.

A budget advisory committee has been formed with parents, teachers, principals and district staff. At Tuesday's Byron Union School District meeting, the group outlined common priorities and recommendations for budget reductions affecting the small school district that serves Discovery Bay and Byron.

"Coming together as a cooperative, collaborative group to handle budget issues that are difficult is a courageous act by these people," said facilitator Abe Doctelero, director of Curriculum and Instruction at the Contra Costa County Office of Education.

Among the committee's common goals were that students remain the first priority and that classroom programs be protected at each of the district's three campuses. The group also prioritized student safety, professional development of staff and good communication, respect and transparency throughout this process.

These goals will help shape the Byron school board's final decision regarding budget cuts at its next meeting on March 11. At that time, the board will face a $900,000 budget reduction target.

"You have the opportunity to do something that nobody else has done," Doctelero said during his presentation at Tuesday night's board meeting.

Assistant superintendent of educational services Ken Jacopetti read a list of process recommendations for decision-making regarding the budget. Protecting classroom integrity is a top priority, Jacopetti said.


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New Byron Superintendent Eric Prater explained three levels of proposed budget reductions that the board will consider. The first level is made up of nonpersonnel costs such as utility and cell phone usage, while the second level is nondirect classroom costs such as the district nurse position and the library clerk's hours.

The third level impacts teaching positions and nonessential programs. The final level is based on the future restoration of any cut programs, positions or resources through the PTA or donor funding, grants and other innovative ideas.

"It is extremely painful to know that it does affect people and lives," Prater said. "There is nothing in here that makes me happy."

One of the board's future decisions is regarding its reserve fund. The district currently has a more than 5 percent reserve, and it is only required to have a 3 percent reserve by the state.

The board could opt to use 1 percent to 2 percent of this reserve. Board member Karri Murayama and board President Kathy Slightam were concerned about cuts that would leave Excelsior Middle School without a vice principal or counselor.

"Those are top of my list for restoration," Slightam said.

Board member Ken Silman advocated for the district keeping its full-time nurse because of various student health issues. Training office staff and utilizing parents could solve that problem, according to board member Lisa Hultz.

"This dollar amount is a teacher. We need to come up with solutions like training the staff," she said.

The district could also lose one full-time music teacher, an elementary school counselor, a noon supervisor and a special education aide. Prater said that the number of special education students is dropping in addition to enrollment in general.

Job sharing may also be used to save the district money. A lot can change between now and May, Prater predicted.

"We are going to continue to be creative in the next few months," he said.

Paula King covers education in far East County. Reach her at 925-779-7189 or pking@bayareanewsgroup.com.