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$1.8 million cuts could take toll on school district

After school programs, teachers, class sizes could be affected, president says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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After the failure of a measure proposed to bring $4 million to the Auburn Union School District over five years, the district is looking at millions of dollars more in potential state cuts. The cuts could affect teachers, after-school programs, class sizes, classified staff and more. As redevelopment agencies around the state wait to see when their funds will be frozen, schools are facing a similar dilemma. “Right now schools receive money from redevelopment agencies,” said Daniel Berlant, president of the district’s board of trustees. “For our district, we receive funds from the city and the county.” Douglas Crancer, assistant superintendent of business and facilities at the district, said property taxes are frozen at their current levels in “blighted areas” that fall under redevelopment agencies. However, redevelopment agencies receive tax increment financing, which is the projected increase in property taxes in an area. A portion of those revenues goes to the school district in the area. Schools use these funds for things like capital projects and paying down debt from building and modernizing schools, Crancer said. Berlant said the district receives about $200,000 a year from redevelopment agencies. “If we lose that $200,000, there is absolutely no way we can make it up,” he said. Berlant said if the state absorbs the funds, there is no guarantee the schools will receive the same amounts they currently do. Berlant said redevelopment funds are all about making a community and its schools vital, but a lack of those funds could mean families having a smaller interest in moving to an area. “Across the state schools are given redevelopment money,” he said. “When you have poor schools you don’t attract a lot of people.” Berlant said another problem for the district lies in the governor’s budget proposal, which says there will be no cuts to K-12 education as long as the voters approve proposed tax measures. “It’s almost like he is holding this tax thing as a gun to our head, and if we don’t pass those taxes … education is at the top of the list for those cuts,” Berlant said. “For our small district there is nothing more to cut. Our teachers are already the lowest paid in the surrounding areas.” Berlant said the board was directed to plan the budget as if the taxes were not being approved, resulting in cuts of $1.8 million over the next three fiscal years. State cuts have already devastated the district, and it’s nearly impossible to think there could be more, Berlant said. “As (state funding) has dwindled down over the last few years, little by little it’s really meant we are a bare-bones district,” he said. “For us to think we will have to take another $1.8 million cut is almost unimaginable.” So what do all these potential cuts mean for the district? “It could mean higher class sizes,” Berlant said. “It could mean less after-school programs. It could mean less classified staff to keep the schools running.” More teacher positions and teacher pay could also be affected, Berlant said. “Our teachers have done their parts,” he said. “Besides being the lowest paid, they have taken cuts in the last couple of years. A lot of people are living paycheck to paycheck just being a teacher in our district.” Superintendent Michele Schuetz said it’s the unknown that is hardest for the district. “The uncertainly is very difficult for school districts, because we won’t know the impact until this election in June,” Schuetz said. “This means we have to make staffing decisions and start next year’s budget development without a clear picture of what our budget will be. It means we have to prepare for the worst but hope that further cuts won’t happen.” Sarah Pressler, a third-grade teacher at Skyridge Elementary School, said she had 17 children in her classroom last year, and has 22 this year, so the thought of primary class sizes going up even more is daunting. “It’s as simple as we are too crowded,” Pressler said. “We don’t have enough materials to get to the kids. Every additional child they bring into the classroom lessens the time I get to spend with each individual child.” Berlant said he encourages people to participate in the campaign started by the Auburn Education Foundation to collect $59 a year from those residents who live in the district and supported Measure L. “If everybody in Auburn and in our district did that, we would be able to survive this latest round of cuts,” he said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com