LIVERMORE — Local schools are in danger of losing as many as 100 teachers and counselors to the state's fiscal crisis, according to district leaders who are grappling with how to slash an unprecedented $5 million from next year's budget.
The school board is set to consider a list of recommended budget reductions at its regular meeting Tuesday, said Michael Martinez, the district's assistant superintendent of administrative services.
While parents have been asked to help prioritize programs, officials say the numbers leave little room for mercy. Livermore Unified, like all school districts in California, is trying to figure out how to absorb an expected multimillion-dollar funding shortfall brought on by the state's deficit.
Though much of the state budget remains undecided, school officials say they must prepare for a worst-case scenario — a potential $7 million to $8 million hit to its $116 million budget and staff of 1,300 full-time and part-time employees.
The proposed cuts are too severe to accomplish in a single year, so school chiefs would prefer to cut $5 million next year and the rest in 2010-11, said Susan Kinder, the district's director of fiscal services.
About 23 full-time teachers and counselors received preliminary pink slips last month, Martinez said. March 15 was the deadline for notifying all permanent teachers deemed at risk for a layoff, with final notification to be given by May 15, he added.
An additional 53 temporary teachers who had one-year contracts with the district have been told they would not be rehired next year, said Kathleen Reardon, president of the Livermore Education Association. The union represents about 675 full-time teachers and counselors.
Temps always receive preliminary layoff notices in March, but they usually have the option of reapplying for their positions or others in the district. In February, the teachers union learned the district would not be posting any new jobs this year, Reardon said.
"No one's hiring anywhere," she added. "We're encouraging (temporary teachers) to consider other professions for the time being."
Another 20 or so teaching positions are expected to be lost through attrition, she said. The district proposed a three-day, unpaid furlough for teachers that would have saved an additional $746,000, but the union rejected the plan, Martinez said.
The furloughs would not have protected against layoffs and would have been unfair to teachers who face "bigger class sizes, less supplies and less aids" next year, Reardon said.
The proposed cuts aren't confined to the classrooms.
At a March 17 board meeting, school chiefs discussed a list of possible reductions to music, physical education, technology, speech and custodial services.
"We're down to bare bones now. We're already cleaning classrooms every other day," said Daryl Cota of the Service Employees International Union. The local SEIU chapter represents about 80 full-time maintenance, groundskeeping and food service workers.
Special education programs might also be dealt a blow. One proposed cut would reduce the hours of special education classroom aides — a possible impact on "those most vulnerable in our system," one parent wrote in an e-mail message to the school board.
Both Cota's bargaining unit and another that represents classroom aides and clerical staff have been asked to take five-day furloughs.
Neither group has made a decision on the offer. Their furloughs, combined with those of the district's principals, vice principals, executive directors, superintendent, assistant superintendents and their staffs — all of whom have agreed to five-day furloughs — would save more than $350,000, according to staff reports.
School districts rely on state funding of education, much of which rests on the outcome of six budget-related measures on the May 19 special election ballot, school officials say.
Placed on the ballot as part of the spending plan the governor signed in February to close a $42 billion state deficit, the initiatives are heavily backed by the California Teachers Association.
One of the measures, Proposition 1B, would protect education funding. If approved, it could help reduce future cuts, Reardon said.
But in order for it to work, voters also must embrace Prop. 1A, an initiative that would cap state spending while extending tax hikes. The measure is fiercely opposed by anti-tax groups and has received negative public reviews.
"It's very much up in the air right now," said Reardon, who added, "It's so bad, who knows what will happen even if the initiatives pass? Our entire system of education is in danger of collapsing when you start making these kinds of cuts."