Despite holding a special meeting for the specific purpose of making decisions on budget cuts, the West Contra Costa school district board came no closer to filling a $25.7 million budget gap Monday night.
After two hours of discussion and public comment, the board declined to decide whether to increase class sizes as a way to save as much as $4 million and delayed a decision on whether to lay off 36 additional employees to save an estimated $1.5 million until the district can meet with the union to discuss the matter.
The issues were continued from a board meeting last week, and while most who attended Monday's meeting were happy the board delayed the layoffs and chose not to increase class sizes in kindergarten through third grade classrooms, many were still confused at the board's apparent fractured debate and inability to make a decision. Many shrugged their shoulders and one person called the bizarre nature of the meeting "the twilight zone" as she walked out.
"It was a huge waste of time and a huge waste of energy," said Pixie Hayward Schickele, president of the teachers union, of the meeting. The United Teachers of Richmond strongly opposed the class size increases.
District staff had recommended the board slash costs by increasing kindergarten and third grade class sizes from 20 students to 28 students, and laying off dozens of cafeteria workers, secretaries, typists and more. But a chorus of teachers, parents and district employees decried both plans and instead called for other cuts like administrative jobs. Two motions to approve some form of class size increases died after the majority of members failed to support them.
Faced with a grim budget numbers from the state, the district has been grappling with how to close the massive budget gap for months now. About 250 employees already have been laid off and many programs, including elementary school music, have been cut.
"We have to find the money some place," Board member Madeline Kronenberg said. "There are absolutely no good choices."
Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.