By Kimberly S. Wetzel
West Contra Costa students may not see some of their favorite teachers, secretaries or vice principals at school next year.
The West Contra Costa Unified School District sent out 62 layoff notices, mostly to elementary school teachers, last week as part of a plan to slice $10 million from its $300 million budget next year. The district must make the cuts to prepare for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to chop about $4.5 billion from education in California to offset the state deficit.
Two of the West County pink slips went to school psychologists, human resources chief Jessica Romeo said; no middle or high teachers were affected.
The district so far has eliminated 88 positions -- including 11 vacant nonteaching positions and 77 grant-funded teaching positions -- to reduce spending. Board members also approved reassigning 55 administrators, including several assistant and vice principals, back into the classroom or wherever else they're needed.
More staff shuffling and cuts are on the way, as the board is scheduled to discuss additional money-saving measures today.
"This year, they're making every effort to lay off as few people as possible," said Gail Mendes, president of West Contra Costa's teachers union. "The difference this year is we've cut to the bone in previous years, so there's nothing else to take. There is no more low-hanging fruit. What we're doing now is making major cuts that will have a huge impact on education."
District officials will present a plan to the board today that calls for $6.4 million in cuts that include staff reductions at the central level; it avoids gutting extracurricular activities and athletics.
"What we've heard from you loud and clear is we should cut as far away from the classroom as we can," Superintendent Bruce Harter said during a community budget meeting last week at Kennedy High School in Richmond.
The plan before the board calls for a reduction of 47 employees in special education, operations and business services for a cost savings of $3.85 million. The board is scheduled to vote on the plan April 2; if members give approval, the special education department would lose 14.5 full-time employees, including one-on-one classroom aides. Budget chief Sheri Gamba said many of the special education jobs currently are vacant.
Nine business services employees and 15 operations employees also would lose their jobs.
Other suggested cuts include a reduction in the number of secretaries and vice and assistant principals at each school based on student population for a districtwide savings of $635,000; a cap in managers', directors' and board members' health benefits for a savings of $46,000; a reduction in contracted services to save about $140,000; creating more combined classes for $375,000 in savings; and restructuring the district's state loan debt payment for $1.4 million in savings.
The proposed reductions still leave a shortfall of about $3.9 million, and staff members have suggested that the district may need to consider closing small schools and attempting to negotiate caps to teachers' health care benefits.
Gamba said the heavy reduction in support services means the district's response time to students, parents and teachers will be inevitably slower.
"It's going to be serious," Gamba said. "We're going to be seriously downsizing. We're going to have to rethink what we're doing and how we're doing it."
Mendes said she hopes people concerned about cuts locally and statewide will confront Schwarzenegger about the damage he's causing to students.
"I find it inexplicable that the governor should slash the education budget during what he proclaimed to be the 'Year of Education,'" Mendes said. "I think that it's important that the citizens of California send the governor a very clear message that we're tired of him balancing the budget on the back of education. The children didn't create this mess, and it's not right."
In other action, the board is scheduled today to make a decision on which schools will get the last of Measure J bond funds for rebuilding and renovations. The district, entering the sunset phase of its $1 billion-plus bond program, must make difficult choices on which remaining schools will be rebuilt and which will not.
The board informally agreed a couple weeks ago that Kennedy and De Anza high schools, as well as Nystrom, Dover, Ford, King and Ohlone elementaries, should get new campuses, while Pinole Valley High will not.
Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.