West Contra Costa Unified School District officials sought community input this week on what should be cut and what should be left alone as the district prepares to slice approximately $10.4 million from its 2008-09 budget amid a state fiscal crisis.

The district held community meetings Monday at DeJean Middle School in Richmond and Tuesday at Pinole Valley High School in Pinole, with each event drawing about 100 people. A third meeting took place Wednesday at Richmond High School, and two more, in Hercules and Richmond, are scheduled.

West Contra Costa, like other districts that depend on state money, is bracing for huge cuts to offset Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to trim $4 billion from education to close the state's budget gap. Legislators are wrangling over ways to soften the blow to local districts.

Pinole-area residents listened Tuesday night to budget chief Sheri Gamba's presentation on the district's finances and then broke into small groups to discuss what the district should and should not consider cutting.

Opinions from teachers, parents, residents and West Contra Costa staff varied widely. Some felt that continuing the class-size reduction program would be a good idea, while others felt that librarians are must-haves and should not be compromised.

"If we close libraries, how are kids going to be able to do any work?" Ellerhorst Elementary School PTA Vice President Laura Ramos asked members of her group.

The Pinole Valley High group suggested reducing everything from teacher training and landscaping costs to the number of employees working in the central administrative offices. The district already has taken steps to cut staff at the administrative level.

Others suggested the district consider school consolidation and look at whether creating campuses that house students in kindergarten through eighth grade could save money.

The state's financial plight means that Bay Area school districts are facing some of the toughest cuts in decades. Nearby Mt. Diablo Unified is looking to cut $14 million from its budget, which amounts to roughly 260 positions.

West Contra Costa began reducing budget expenditures last week when the board approved the elimination of 11 vacant, nonteaching positions. The John Swett Unified School District -- which needs to cut about $1 million from its $13 million budget --discussed Wednesday cutting things such as the district's athletic and music programs as well as librarians and computer technicians.

The input collected from the West Contra Costa communities will be analyzed and presented at a budget meeting scheduled for Feb. 28. Board decisions on what to cut will be made in March, Gamba said, and they likely won't be pretty.

"We know this is a deep cut, and it certainly will affect us," Gamba said.

Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or at kwetzel@bayareanewsgroup.com.

If you go

  • WHAT: The West Contra Costa Unified School District is holding community meetings on the district's financial status and to get community input on what programs people would not like to see cut in the 2008-09 school year. The district must cut an estimated $10 million from its upcoming budget.

  • WHEN: The meetings are open to everyone and run 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. They are scheduled as follows:

    Feb. 26 -- Hercules Middle High School cafeteria, 1900 Refugio Valley Road, Hercules.

    Feb. 27 -- Murphy Elementary multipurpose room, 4350 Valley View Road, Richmond.

    The school board will hold a budget workshop Feb. 28 at DeJean Middle School, 3400 Macdonald Ave., Richmond.

  • DETAILS: Call Paul Ehara, director of communications, at 510-231-1133.