Faced with a $1.9 million budget shortfall next year, the Martinez school board cut nearly six credentialed positions Monday and agreed to explore placing a parcel tax on the November ballot.

The Martinez Unified School District stands to lose $900,000 in state funding and about $500,000 due to declining enrollment next school year, said Tim Rahill, assistant superintendent of administrative services.

The district also must find an additional $500,000 to cover salary and employee health benefit increases. The district's annual budget is $30 million.

An undercurrent of anger at state legislators coursed through the board's discussion of the budget cuts and the parcel tax, which could generate as much as $1.1 million per year.

"They can walk away and say we didn't tax the citizens of Martinez, the school district did," board president Ron Skrehot said. "If the state's not going to make up the funding that's lost, we're going to have to make it up at the local level. We have no choice."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting $4.5 billion in education funding to close an $8.5 billion state budget gap.

The school board already has cut four part-time clerical positions at the district office and a full-time job in the accounting department because of the strained budget.

Under state law, the district must notify teachers who may lose their jobs for the upcoming school year by March 15. The 5.4 full-time equivalent positions the board cut Monday include a Spanish teacher, three multiple-subject teachers and a counselor at Alhambra High School who was hired last year.

Board members hope they will be able to avoid layoffs either through attrition or revisions to the governor's budget.

Char Teutschel, president of the Martinez Education Association, described the personnel cuts as a "rash decision" and asked the board to commit to rehiring any laid off employees.

Superintendent John Triolo presented a report from a financial consulting firm outlining the process for passing a parcel tax. According to the report, the school district encompasses 11,559 taxable parcels in Martinez and unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County. That includes nearly 6,500 single-family homes. With a $75 parcel tax the district would raise $866,925 per year. A $100 tax would generate about $1.16 million.

To get the tax on the November ballot, the district must submit a resolution to the county by early August. To pass, two-thirds of the voters who cast a ballot on election day must support the parcel tax.

Board members said a parcel tax would not solve all the district's budget problems and they acknowledged they should coordinate campaign efforts with city leaders, who are pushing for a parks bond on the same ballot. They set a special meeting for March 31 to gather feedback from residents and hear presentations from consultants.

"I definitely think we need to take steps to stop see-sawing around," said board member Denise Elsken, who noted that the board considered a parcel tax four years ago after deep budget cuts. "It's devastating to our kids, it's devastating to our employees."

Lisa P. White covers Pleasant Hill and Martinez. Reach her at 925-943-8011 or lwhite@bayareanewsgroup.com.