RWC School Board March 5th Budget Meeting

On March 5th, the Redwood City School District held a special meeting to discuss the impending budget cuts. This is a brief report of this meeting. This is not my own editorial comment about the situation. That might follow later.

The meeting took place in the School Board's meeting room, filled to capacity. The whole School Board, the Superintendent and other district staff were present. Contrary to my expectations, the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss which specific cuts are expected in Redwood City given the 10% across the board cuts proposed by Sacramento. Instead, board member Shelly Masur told us that the purpose of the meeting was to mobilize the community to see what we can do to prevent these cuts from taking place.

The Superintendent started with a brief speech in which she emphasized the great progress Redwood City schools have been making and how the proposed cuts would "slam the breaks" on this progress. She pointed out that we've spent around a million training teachers in the new methodologies and that the cuts would result in the loss of such trained teachers.

Raul Parungao, Chief Business Officer, showed the impact of the cuts on California by comparing the state's amount spent per child with New Jersey 05-06 data. New Jersey is the state that spends the most per student. Highlights:

  • New Jersey spent $12,300 per student in 05-06. The amount they're currently spending is probably higher due to cost of living adjustments.

  • California is #46 in the nation, spending about $9,000 per student.

  • Every year there's a cost of living adjustment made, which was expected to be about $450 this year.

  • On top of that the Governor specified a deficit of 6.99% resulting in $750 taken out of the total amount.

  • The overall result is $300 less per student for next year, but a total loss of $750 because all budget projections were expecting the cost of living adjustment.

The Redwood City School District is mandated to keep a 3% cash reserve by the state and in past years the School Board increased the requirement to 6%. This means that by reducing the reserves to the minimum 3% the School Board will be able to mitigate the cuts somewhat... but only for 1 year.

The School Board needs to operate under the assumption that the cuts are happening. It is required to prepare a balanced budget for the next three years by June 30th. This means that cuts will need to be made regardless of the ongoing budget fights in Sacramento. The Democrats in the legislature are declaring the cuts unacceptable and are promising to fight to restore funding, but this process will undoubtedly keep going during the summer and won't prevent the planning of our local cuts. To make matters worse, as soon as the real budget is signed by the Governor, the district has 45 days to revise it for the final version.

The upshot of this is that cuts will need to be made, possibly to be unmade later. This means layoff notices are being sent to teachers now and all programs need to be under consideration.

Raul pointed out that in 03-04 we faced the same problems and it's taken the district 4 years to recover from that mess. One of the handouts from the meeting shows that Redwood City has made cuts in 4 of the last 5 years.

The rest of the meeting was spent brainstorming on ways to avoid the cuts. There was some consensus that contacting legislators is key and that it's crucial to get everyone we know anywhere in California to participate in a letter writing campaign. It's not enough if only parents of school aged children do this. We need the whole community to participate.

The Parent Club at Clifford has started a letter writing campaign. At the meeting, parents from other schools signed up to carry out the campaign at their schools. The letters will be collected and delivered to the legislators and Governor, hopefully with some notice by the media.

The next steps for the District at this point:

  • Next week they need to approve an interim budget, projecting the next 3 years.

  • The District is forming a financial advisory committee with community and staff.

  • The District has added a Budget discussion item to each and every board meeting from now to the end of June.

  • The District now has to come up with a budget that is balanced under the current worst-case assumptions by June 30th.

The meeting ended with a call to energize the community and come up with creative ways to stop these cuts from happening.

My complete notes from the meeting can be found here: meeting notes. Most of it is covered in this writeup.

The school district has a full page about the budget crisis with a number of useful handouts. And here's a link to a page containing the sample letters to legislators.


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