RICHMOND -- Class sizes will increase for the youngest students in the West Contra Costa school district, and the district will tap into its reserves to balance its budget over the next three years.
The decisions were incorporated into the district's 2012-13 budget, passed by the school board on a 4-1 vote Tuesday evening. They allow West Contra Costa to eliminate two furlough days for teachers and six for other employees and maintain two elementary schools -- Shannon and Lake -- that were formerly on the chopping block.
The budget also allows the district to maintain funding for 16 school resource officers -- police officers assigned to help keep order and help with instruction on high school and middle school campuses -- at six schools.
Despite the pleas of parents at the meeting, the board raised the sizes of kindergarten through third-grade classes from 20 to 28 per teacher, using $2.3 million in parcel tax money to avoid the need to place 31 students in each class.
"We've been paying for (K-3 class size reduction) out of federal stimulus money, which we knew was going to be one-time money," Chief Financial Officer Sheri Gamba said.
The district will need to spend $3.3 million from its $20.5 million in reserves in 2012-13, followed by a total of $8.7 million in the following two years to avoid more budget cutting, Gamba told the board.
The drawdown will leave the district with $8.5 million in reserves at the end of the
Even with the deficit spending, the budget depends on voters passing the slate of income and sales taxes that Gov. Jerry Brown has placed on the November ballot.
If the taxes fail, the $175.7 million 2012-13 budget will be short $12 million, which will have to be covered midyear by freezing hiring and expenses. Next year, it might result in restoring furlough days, attempting to roll back wages and benefits or other remedies, Gamba said.
"We have increased class sizes at the secondary level, reduced staff, closed schools and capped benefits," said Gamba, criticizing the lack of financial support from the state. "It's really angered me to be working in this environment."
While lamenting the class-size increases, board President Charles Ramsey said he thinks the district is in better shape than many others.
"My heart goes out to the students and parents" about class size, Ramsey said. "We're keeping instructional days, and a lot of districts aren't doing that. We haven't had to do any short-term borrowing, which is expensive."
Board member Tony Thurmond voted against the budget based on his objections to the higher class sizes. He also questioned the need for the district to project a 3 percent reserve for three years, which is mandated by state law.
"We just know that class-size reduction is the right thing," Thurmond said. "More personal attention from the teacher in the early years has a tremendous impact on" student success later on.
West Contra Costa will also need to cope with the defeat of Measure K, which narrowly failed to obtain the two-thirds approval required on the June 5 ballot.
The measure would have extended the roughly $10 million in annual funding from a 2008 parcel tax and provided an additional $4 million to pay for library and athletic programs, reduce class sizes, and hire teachers, counselors and custodians beyond the end of the 2013-14 school year.
The district is holding a public meeting Monday at Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito to discuss placing another parcel tax measure on the November ballot.
West Contra Costa is one of a few districts in the state that has a commitment to pay for the entire cost of health care for retirees and their dependents. The $19 million annual cost of that program, which was closed to new retirees in 2010, rose 9.6 percent in 2011-12, Gamba said.
In a side issue, Ramsey said he questions the fairness of the distribution and funding for school resource officers. San Pablo pays the entire cost of the one officer at Helms Middle School, and the district picks up most of the tab for three officers in El Cerrito.
"I don't think this imbalance is justified," Ramsey said. "It's a critical issue that needs to be addressed."