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School closures, shorter year eyed if measures fail

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From page A1 | October 05, 2012 |

The Davis school board — while hoping that California voters will approve Proposition 30 in the Nov. 6 election, and Davis-area voters will support school parcel tax Measure E — began preparing for the possible alternative outcome at Thursday night’s meeting.

The trustees instructed staff to bring back financial scenarios for how the school district could adapt to an immediate $3.7 million mid-year budget cut — the hit Davis would take if Prop. 30 fails at the polls. Proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, it would raise taxes temporarily to fund education and public safety.

Staffers also were asked to prepare financial scenarios for how the district would respond if Measure E fails, and Davis must slash another $3.2 million from the budget. That money, currently provided by Measure A, will disappear when it expires in June 2013.

Together, the combined cuts would be $6.9 million — a figure that Superintendent Winfred Roberson described as “a $6.9 million cliff” that the school district’s budget is facing.

The superintendent noted “how painful” it was when Davis reduced staffing by the equivalent of 51 full-time positions earlier this year, increasing class size to 30-some students in grades K-3, with larger classes for students in higher grades. The cuts were necessitated by state funding reductions and deferrals of payments, which are essentially IOUs.

Roberson said the $3.7 million cut that will occur if Prop. 30 fails would translate to the equivalent of 67 full-time positions. If Measure E loses, that $3.2 million translates to the equivalent of 58 full-time positions.

“We cannot cut 125 positions and still educate students,” Trustee Sheila Allen said.

Roberson briefly outlined some of the possible actions the board could consider. Closing an elementary school would save the district somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 annually, by eliminating a principal, some secretarial and custodial positions, and consolidating the students onto another campus. Closing a junior high school could save between $500,000 and $600,000. Either of these alternatives would involve redrawing attendance boundaries.

Another possibility would be to reconfigure the schools, switching to campuses for grades K-8 and a high school for grades 9-12, rather than the current system of schools serving K-6, 7-9 and 10-12. This would save money since the K-8 schools essentially would serve both elementary and middle school students. The current system is somewhat more expensive, since certain more costly-to-offer ninth-grade courses are divided among three junior high campuses, rather than being offered together at Davis High School.

Roberson also mentioned possible employee concessions and furlough days. He said each one-day reduction in the school year saves about $225,000. A 1 percent reduction in salaries saves $450,000.

Trustee Gina Daleiden said the prospect of shifting the district’s program  from the current trio of junior high schools to a pair of more crowded middle schools “is the kind of stuff we’re going to have to look at. … I’m not saying it’s pleasant, or that I’m advocating for it.”

Added school board president Susan Lovenburg, “It (will be) hugely upsetting when (this information) appears in The Enterprise. … We’re not trying to scare people. But we are trying to plan. We’re thinking through the best way we could deal with the (possible) loss of $7 million to the school district.”

Trustee Richard Harris said, “There are going to be some real tough conversations (if we have to make these cuts). I’m not sure people get how bad this really is.”

Jose Granda, a school board candidate who opposes the parcel tax, objected to the tenor of the school board’s discussion, saying that while it had been billed as a budget workshop, “I see this meeting as your campaign rally for Measure E.” Granda maintained that the school district, by placing parcel tax measures before local voters four times since 2007, is “treating (taxpayers) as if you are entitled to their money. This is the fourth trip to the ATM machine.”

The trustees instructed staff to come back Oct. 18 with more information, including how many students each of the district’s campuses can accommodate, and how much money might be saved under various school closure and program reduction options.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8055.

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