The Redwood City School Board met on 2/10/2010 to discuss recommendations for mid-year cuts. The meeting was very well attended, very long and incredibly emotional. After 1 hour of various unrelated business, we got into the meat of things. Raul repeated his excellent presentation which clearly explains the deplorable financial situation of school districts around our State (If you have not seen it, read it now: Special Board Meeting Mid-Year Cut 2.3.10). And there were some small updates from the previous week: incredibly, the situation is looking even more grim now and we’re projecting a higher shortfall than before due to new information from Sacramento.
In the next section of the meeting people had the chance to address the Board. Many people spoke, concerned about the various cuts currently under way. We heard from teachers, parents, staff and even a principal. There was crying, there was yelling, there were some accusations, but by and large the speakers were polite and made their points eloquently. Most of the comments had to do with the removal of teachers from classrooms in the middle of the year and the impact on kids, specially Kindergartners. 8th graders from McKinley made a statement in support of their math teacher, soon to be laid off.
The Board members listened stoically, saving their responses and commentary for the end. When that time came they asked the administrators for some clarifications, discussed the situation and eventually voted to approve the cuts as proposed. (I left at 11:30PM before the vote took place.)
I don’t envy them at all. Their job is to be responsible adults and keep our School District functioning under extremely adverse circumstances. They all pointed out that none of these cuts are good and that we’re making them because we really have no choice. And they reminded us that given the financial outlook, these cuts are just the first, a small sample of the cuts that are coming.
Why Mid-Year Cuts?
Basically, because the district has no choice. The district has to maintain a 3% cash reserve to avoid being taken over by the State. Current cash reserves are around 3.69%. The State Controller has warned that California might not have enough money to pay salaries in the months ahead and the district might need some of the reserves for that. And the situation can get even worse if the State decides to impose a mid-year cut retroactively like they did at the end of last year. Cuts made now also mean fewer cuts to be made for next year’s budget although this is little consolation as we expect massive cuts then regardless.
So, cuts need to be made. What can get cut? In Redwood City not much. The district has already been cutting every year to reach our current situation where 85% of the budget goes to salaries. At this point any non trivial cuts require reducing staff.
And because of various contracts the district has very little choice of who can get cut in the middle of the year. The jargon here is a bit confusing for outsiders like me, but my understanding is that the district can’t lay off teachers when they’ve been employed for 75% of the school year, which requires cuts to happen very soon. “Temporary teachers” get chosen first. Their positions can be filled with teachers that currently work in the district but outside the classrooms. And it seems we’re even lucky in Redwood City that we have other teachers that can take over.
What are the Cuts?
The cuts and some of the rationale is outlined in this letter from the superintendent. You can see them here as well. For each cut, the first number is how much we save this year followed by how much we save the following year:
- 9 temporary classroom teachers: 261K/764K. Positions to be back filled by credentialed teachers in the district but not currently working within the classroom.
- 1 accountant: 23K/87K. The administration would pick up extra work.
- 5 custodians: 67K/256K. Currently school classrooms are on an ABC schedule, cleaned every 3 days. Now they will be cleaned once a week. Restrooms, cafeterias and nurses’ rooms will be cleaned every day.
- Reduce RSP instructional aides to 3 hours: 60K/229K. Impacts 25 employees in the district.
- 1 office manager at Roosevelt: 23K/55K. This is a vacant position.
- 1 system manager, position currently vacant: 39K/105K.
- 1 classroom teacher at Newcomer: 82K/82K.
- Plato learning program: 25K/25K.
- Freeze budget for library books and materials: 23K/31K.
The district is still hoping to reduce the work year for all employees by 5 days, for a possible further reduction this year of 1.3 million. Negotiations are at an impasse with the teacher’s union. Mediation will begin on March 17th. The union notified the district they won’t move until mediation takes place.
The following were originally considered for mid year cuts but were rejected at this point: these will not be cut right now:
- Increase class sizes to 31 at grades K-3.
- 1 transportation dispatcher.
- 10.7 library aides.
Of course, we expect all these to be cut at the end of the year as possibly the deepest cuts in recent memory are expected, their magnitude depending on the level of funding supplied by the State. As always, our dysfunctional State won’t be able to pass the budget in reasonable time and the school district will be required to make worst case cuts in advance of next school year. And now the projected shortfall has grown, to between 4.7 and 13.7 million dollars.
Raul noted that current funding is about the same of 2006/2007 but we now serve 1000 more students. We reduced our budget by 17% in the last three years. Per student funding went from 5500 per year to 4700 per year in 2009/2010. The situation is expected to get worse in the next few years. The public education system is being dismantled in front of our very eyes. Continue reading →