Officials at John Swett -- encompassing Rodeo Hills Elementary in Rodeo and Carquinez Middle, John Swett and Willow high schools in Crockett -- estimate they need to slice more than $1 million from the district's $13 million budget next year amid a fiscal crisis that has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger calling for $4 billion in cuts to education statewide.
"This crisis is real," John Swett board President Bill Concannon said. "It affects every district in the state, and it incites strong emotions."
About 70 members of the community filled the small board room Wednesday night; some sat on the floor, as others stood in the hallway listening and waiting for a chance to address the board.
Many speakers suggested the board seek alternatives to cuts that would hurt students, including reductions to administrator salaries. Others warned that if the board moves forward with cutting extracurricular activities, such as music and sports, enrollment in the 1,700-student district will decline.
"I urge you, when you are deliberating these cuts, keep them as far away from the classroom as possible," said Dean Colombo, a teacher in the district.
Swett officials released a long list of proposed cuts that include a 3.3 percent salary reduction for all employees, as well as elimination of what amounts to seven teachers, three library technicians, two computer lab assistants and the district's entire music and athletics programs, among other things. The list, if approved in its entirety, would yield about $1.4 million in savings.
District staff and the board discussed putting a parcel tax measure before voters in the June election to soften the budgetary blow and likely will make a formal decision whether to do so in the next two weeks. The district tried to get voter approval on parcel taxes in 2005 and 2006, but each time came up short of the two-thirds majority by fewer than 30 votes. The last parcel tax would have generated about $500,000 annually for the district.
"Maybe now is the time," Superintendent Michael Roth said.
The board cannot wait for voters to approve a parcel tax before making cuts, however, as districts must notify certified employees by March 15 who they plan to lay off next year. The district also needs to adopt a budget in June whether legislators have ironed out a state budget or not.
Many who spoke Wednesday evening suggested the board use a $3.9 million reserve carried over from last year to balance the budget, but business manager Bryan Richards said the district already plans to use all of that money in the next few years to offset additional projected budget shortfalls. The money should be gone by the 2010-11 school year, he said.
"Right now, we have to build a budget based on ugly, ugly numbers coming out of Sacramento," Richards said.
It was not clear what the board might decide to cut or spare, but member Holly Myers suggested they start by forgoing their personal stipends. Board member Norma Clerici offered a list of ideas that included combining the superintendent's and business manager's roles and reducing expenditures on consultant contracts, as well as conference fees and travel budgets, by 75 percent.
"Wherever cuts come from, it's not going to be easy," board member Benita Shaw-Malone said. "And everybody is not going to like where the cuts are."
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