CONCORD — Grappling with lower-than-expected state revenues, the Mt. Diablo school district board is planning to slash at least $5 million from its budget.
Without making cuts, the district would have a $4.5 million deficit by the end of the 2009-10 school year that would grow to $7.8 million the following year, said Dick Nicoll, assistant superintendent for administrative services.
"The reason for the doom and gloom is that things could get worse," Nicoll said, adding that the state may reduce school moneys further if its lottery plan and other revenue projections don't pan out.
The board will begin looking at cuts Oct. 28. Board members hope teachers, parents and others will offer suggestions for reductions they could live with.
"We need to act and act quickly so we don't turn in a budget that's not balanced," trustee Gary Eberhart said. "And we have employees who have not had a (union) contract since 2006-07. This is a crisis."
To free up money for employee pay raises and health benefits, the board would need to make even deeper cuts. Trustees Linda Mayo and Paul Strange urged residents to lean on state legislators, stressing the importance of school funding and lobbying against more reductions.
Superintendent Gary McHenry said he would bring a list of items that were not cut last year to the board in two weeks, along with suggested criteria for new budget reductions.
"It's going to be harder this time," McHenry said. "This year, to come up with $5 (million) or $7 million is going to be challenging and it's going to be impossible without looking at programs. If we cut programs that affect students, our parents will not accept that."
Eberhart suggested retaining effective programs and cutting less successful ones. He warned McHenry against proposing elimination of "the same old dusty list" of programs such as music and sports.
Board President April Treece said the district has cut close to $30 million in the past eight years.
"It's very clear the $14 million in cuts we made in '07-'08 have really hurt our district," Treece said.
"It will be ever more difficult to agree on the right things to cut."
To provide better budget oversight, the board appointed Bryan Richards as fiscal services director, filling a position that has been vacant for months. Richards is currently business manager of the John Swett school district.
Theresa Harrington covers the Mt. Diablo school district. Reach her at 925-945-4764 or email@example.com.