Teaching positions, school days face cuts?

School board asked to slash $464K from budget
By: Gloria Beverage, Colfax Record Editor
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Colfax Elementary School board members spent three hours Monday night trying to cut $464,055 from the 2011-2012 budget. Board members reviewed a list of more than 30 possible reductions with an eye to keeping the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. After slashing nearly $348,000 from the budget, the board reluctantly acknowledged the possibility of cutting 2.5 teacher positions and shortening the school year by five days. “I feel we’re not going to get it without cutting one or two,” said board member Bruce Nissen. “Right now we’re doing a worst-case scenario (budget) based on the numbers.” The district’s budget crisis came to light at last week’s special meeting. Superintendent Fred Adam told the board that the Placer County Office of Education had found two costly mistakes in the district’s First Interim Budget report. As a result, the district was directed to present a revised budget by March 15. In order to meet the deadline, two special meetings were called to discuss reductions with a final round of discussions slated for the Feb. 15 board meeting. The quick turnaround is critical, Adam reported, because the district must provide the Office of Education at least 10 working days to review any agreement made between any bargaining unit and the district, which includes possible teacher layoff notices. The board quickly agreed to a number of smaller reductions, including reducing energy usage (using motion-activated switches, lowering the settings on thermostats), reducing the supplies budget, eliminating one of the copiers on campus, using a free antivirus software program and switching to Google for email services as well as selling the district’s GMC SUV. Adam recommended combining the positions of superintendent and principal, which would save the district $30,000. “Anne Stone is willing to take the superintendent/principal position at the principal’s salary level,” he said. The board also agreed to consider reducing school/district office staff by an additional 15 percent beyond what was implemented last school year. One way to make that work would be to make the business manager position half time and hire a fulltime payroll clerk, Adam said. Stone told the board she has started work on the district’s petition to become a charter school, which could generate additional revenue ranging from $40- to $60,000. The petition must be presented to the State Board of Education by the end of the fiscal year, Adam added. Another cost-saving measure discussed included consolidating with another school district. “The state makes it difficult to consolidate,” Adam said. “You’d think it would be the opposite. The state has formulas to follow and a very well-defined process. It is not an immediate process. It’s not something that could be accelerated in six months. But it is worth looking at.” Eighth-grade teacher Joan Griffin suggested returning the Kindergarten program to half-days and asking the on-site day-care program to “pick up the slack for working parents.” Other ideas that could help the district’s deficit include the reorganization of special education services being recommended by staff and coordinating early out days to match Colfax High School, which could save transportation costs. As several board members pointed out throughout the evening, many of the suggestions on the list directly impacted the classroom. Rather than eliminate the physical education program, for example, the board suggested making it a half-time position. They were also reluctant to eliminate the after-school intervention program, the library clerk position, the GATE program, instructional aide classroom support and software programs like JiJi and Accelerated Reading. “Protect and respect your teachers. That is what you need to do,” urged Lynn Oliver, a member of the Office of Education Board of Trustees. “If you can keep the people that teach the children that would be my recommendation.” Adam will present a revised list at the Feb. 15 board meeting. “If you are unable to make a decision in February,” he said, “you still have until March. But we have to have a fiscal recovery plan in by mid-March.” The state’s current fiscal crisis is taking its toll on school budgets, Adam said. “None of what you’ve been dealing with in California has been logical,” he continued. “None of it is good for the kids. Nobody is saying 28 in a classroom is better than 24 or 22. It’s all based on finances. I don’t believe that’s good for the kids.”