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High school district facing millions in cuts

Already large class sizes not expected to go up, assistant superintendent says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer Union High School District is facing a potential $4.5 million in cuts over the next three years. Like the Auburn Union School District, the high school district’s potential cuts rely on whether or not voters approve the extension of various taxes, proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. “We are going to be facing similar cuts, and it’s related to the extension of taxes, and so if the election does not pass (the taxes) our understanding is that we would (receive cuts of) … over $1.5 million a year,” said Doug Marquand, assistant superintendent for Administrative Services for the district. Marquand said the Placer County Office of Education has directed the district to prepare its budget for the next three years as if the cuts are a sure thing. “We have made so many cuts over the last couple of years that have affected the classroom, that we are not sure how we are going to address this,” he said. “The funding mechanism for schools is just broken at this point. It is a discussion that we will be having with our board, district leadership, and teachers on how we address this crisis.” Marquand said it is not clear at this point what programs would have to be cut from schools, or if staff positions would be affected. “It will affect all schools because of the reduced funding,” he said. “To what level, no decision has been made. Basically no formal decision has been made as to how we will address this reduced funding.” Marquand said one of the district’s discussion items could include not filling staff vacancies as retirements occur. The district is not planning on laying off any high school permanent teaching positions at this point, and giving classified staff pink slips is not being discussed at the moment, Marquand said. This year the district has several teachers working at more than one school. “We really worked hard last year to staff this year to maintain programs, looking at the number of students in the classrooms and utilizing the teachers in different areas to maximize our resources,” he said. “If that meant moving one teacher from one school to another, obviously that makes sense, and it saves a teacher, keeps them fully employed.” Placer High Principal Peter Efstathiu said if the district approached him and asked what at the school he thought could stand to be cut, he wouldn’t have any recommendations. “To be honest with you nothing (could stand cuts),” Efstathiu said. “We have cut support staff, we have cut teachers, we have cut money to athletics, we have cut money to the classroom. How do you pick and choose where you cut without doing it across the board so everybody feels it?” Efstathiu said if certain programs were to be cut, it would be against California Education Code to ask students and their families to pay to support those programs. Budget cuts have already taken their toll on the school, Efstathiu said. “The German program is gone,” he said. “The French program is only part time. You don’t see a lot of after-school activities. I have seen a drop in the number of clubs we have. Athletics have taken a big hit in terms of not being able to hire as many coaches.” Marquand said the average class size throughout the district is now 38 students as a result of previous cuts. Efstathiu said classes used to be as low as 32 per class. “I think the kids are not able to utilize the 90 minutes (in one class period) because the teachers are having to spend the time keeping things organized,” Efstathiu said. “The rooms weren’t built to effectively have 42 students in a classroom.” Erin Lee, an English teacher at Placer High, has 41 students in her fourth-period junior English class. “Even though this is a large class, I have a fantastic group of students,” Lee said. “But the difference is I don’t get as much time with each of them as I would like, and that’s really what it comes down to.” Marquand said, at this point, the district is not considering raising class sizes again. “We have reached that point where we don’t see it being able to go any higher,” he said. Lee said she hopes no matter what budget cuts come into play, that the students’ needs will be met. “I think the most important thing to keep in mind in regards to cuts is we have to think of our students,” she said. “I think the administration has a really difficult job, and the best thing for them to do is just keep the students’ best interests at heart.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com