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School board gets preview of future budget cuts

Submitted by on 1, September 29, 2010 – 4:50 amOne Comment

School board trustees got a preview of some $20 million in cuts they could consider making over the next two years in order to keep the Alameda Unified School District solvent – cuts they said students and staff could be spared if voters approve a new parcel tax.

The list includes school closures, across-the-board salary cuts, increased K-3 class sizes and two additional teacher furlough days and elimination of programs that could include elementary school media center, music and physical education programs; swim centers; and adult education.

Members of the community will be asked to rank the different items on a scale of one to five in order to help district leaders understand what cuts to propose – and how large of a parcel tax to ask voters to approve, Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said.

“We’ve got some really difficult decisions as a school board to maintain three years of positive balances,” Shemwell said. The district is legally required to show it can balance its budget for three years.

The district made $7.2 million in cuts this year in order to balance its budget, cuts it had hoped to avoid by putting a parcel tax on the ballot in last June. It has balanced its budget over the last few years of state funding reductions using one-time federal money and a temporary loosening of state mandates that allowed the district to shorten the school year, raise class sizes and spend “categorical” funds typically targeted to specific programs on general expenses through 2012, Shemwell said. And the district will lose another $7.2 million a year if its existing parcel taxes lapse in 2012 without anything to replace them.

Shemwell said it’s good news the district has the funds to cut, because a lot of districts don’t. Still, he and Superintendent Kirsten Vital said these are cuts district officials don’t want to make.

“They’re disastrous and drastic and draconian cuts. But there are a lot of districts in California that don’t even have that option available to them. Year over year over year, you will see an increase in the number of districts filing for bankruptcy,” Shemwell said.

Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer offered a laundry list of questions about the proposed cuts that she wanted addressed. But board vice president Mike McMahon said he wants to focus on explaining to the community why a parcel tax is needed.

“If we’re going to maintain the academic integrity of this district, we need a parcel tax,” McMahon said. “Did we lose the parcel tax because it was too much, or was it the wrong structure? Or were we not clear that Alameda’s education was on the line?”

Leaders of a new group set to lead a parcel tax campaign, Alameda Save Our Schools, announced their formation at the meeting Tuesday night.

The discussion came after parents and teachers from Washington and Henry Haight elementary schools registered their concerns about plans to close Washington next year and the loss of one of the latter school’s teachers. In both cases, parents questioned why their schools were being impacted when Franklin Elementary, whose parent population is wealthier, appeared to be spared.

Washington Elementary is being considered for closure next year in most of the school closure scenarios being considered by the school board, and Paden is also being considered. Franklin and several other schools – Edison, Otis, Lum and Bay Farm would be considered for closure in 2012.

“We all know that disruption of your school experience is not exactly the best way to keep you learning or keep you paying attention. So we’re going to make at-risk children move, while parents with resources are sitting in their nice, really sweet small school,” Washington parent Chris Martin said. “Maybe you could put them all in a bigger school, where they can socialize with kids who are not their economic level.”

Teachers also asked the board to reconsider plans to move Henry Haight Elementary School teacher Marva Campbell-Caldwell to a half-time job at Wood Middle School. They said Campbell-Caldwell, who has two decades of teaching experience, had demonstrated leadership at the school and increased test scores well beyond the school average. And they said Campbell-Caldwell, who is African-American, helped the school’s teaching staff better reflect the diversity of its student body.

They said the district made a discretionary decision to move the teacher instead of another from Franklin. District officials said there were reasons for the decision, but that they can’t discuss personnel matters. The board voted 3-2 to okay the move.

District staff also talked about efforts underway to gain city funding to keep Woodstock Child Development Center open for three more months. And they are considering relinquishing the land that Woodstock and Island High School sit on to the Navy.

The board will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln Middle School to discuss school closure and consolidation plans.

One Comment »

  • Jon Spangler says:

    What is the AUSD’s explanation for the increased dollar amount of proposed cuts, now pushing $20 million instead of $17 million?

    I would not be surprised if there are not very sound reasons for this change but have not seen any explanation yet for this additional “bad news.”

    And almost all of the news for our schools is looking pretty bad these days unless we really step up to thew plate with a big parcel tax next spring….

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