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The Sacramento City Unified School District board unanimously voted to balance the district's projected “worst-case” budget shortfall of $22.35 million by eliminating financial support for sports, drama, yearbook, newspaper, marching band, cheerleading and speech and debate.
The proposal is to eliminate “extra pay for extra-duty stipends,” uniform replacements funds, athletic trainer funds and co-curricular transportation funds for a savings of $1.26 million, according to the district.
Board members also voted to reduce the district’s counseling staff by 37 percent, eliminating one assistant principal position at each high school and raising K-3 class sizes at two grade levels. The board previously approved raising class sizes for all other grades – including 40 students per teacher at the high school level.
“It's a horrible scenario. The superintendent and board will still continue to look for ways to fund these programs,” said spokesman Gabe Rosson Friday morning.
The district is racing to meet a March 15 deadline to present a balanced budget to the Sacramento County Office of Education or risk receiving a “negative” rating, which could lead to state takeover. This year’s budgeting process is especially challenging, as the state’s funding of K-12 districts hinges on voters extending current temporary taxes in a June 7 special election.
Gov. Jerry Brown is asking for a two-thirds vote in the State Legislature for such a measure and has given legislators a March 10 deadline. If the taxes are not extended, SCUSD will face a $22.35 million shortfall.
Sacramento Teachers Associated President Linda Tuttle said Friday afternoon that she was shocked the cuts went as deep as they did.
So far, the Legislature has not placed tax extensions on the ballot, but Tuttle said she believes it's more than likely they will make it as the Sacramento Metro Chamber announced its support of the tax extensions.
Tuttle said she calls on voters to choose to fund programs they had when they were students. “What do voters value? These are the things they had in schools. We're at the mercy of the voters,” she said.
Tuttle said that if the tax extensions do get on the ballot and pass, the budget situation would be bearable to teachers. They would have to “only cut 6-9 million – we can do that … oh golly, cut only 6-9 million: That's a ridiculous statement.”
Raising class sizes, which must be negotiated with unions, reduces the need for teachers. The board also approved layoff notices to certificated staff, which includes teachers, counselors and other positions.
Tuttle said that teachers agreed last year to keep class sizes down by giving $95 a month to the district. If the worst-case scenario materializes and class sizes go up, she said the union might seek legal action, though they are hoping they won't go that route.
“These proposed cuts are terrible,” said Superintendent Jonathan Raymond. “There isn’t an expendable position in our district. We have no surplus staff. We have no programs that are simply ‘icing on the cake.’ Sports, drama, yearbook – these are programs students need and deserve. Often, these so-called ‘extras’ are the only reason kids come to school.”
SCUSD’s worst-case shortfall is on top of $177 million in cuts to SCUSD’s budget in the last nine years – a 35 percent reduction in what was once a $500 million budget. Even if voters pass tax extensions in a special election, it is projected that more cuts will be needed to balance SCUSD’s budget for next year, due to the lingering recession and enrollment declines in some areas.
As soon as the 3 p.m. bell rang at Hiram Johnson High School, band teacher Kevin Goings was joined with seven students who are part of a drum lineup who, as music director Luana Hernandez said, were playing just to play.
“We're investing in you right now,” Goings, said when one of them missed a beat. The group gathers about four days a week after school and was started about two years ago when Goings revamped the program, explained Hernandez.
Hernandez noted that because stipends are going to be cut, more impoverished schools will suffer more than others.
To raise awareness of budget issues, the district has been holding a series of community forums. The district also has asked its community to participate in a budget priorities survey, which is available at www.scusd.edu.
In a letter to employees, Raymond urged family members, friends and neighbors throughout the state to contact their elected officials to support getting the tax extensions on the June 7 ballot.
“We need the public to understand that years of the state balancing its budget on the backs of kids has eliminated all the easy solutions to public education under-funding,” Raymond said. “As a colleague of mine recently said, not only is all the ‘low-hanging fruit’ gone, the tree is gone.”
Monica Stark can be reached at email@example.com