School board mulls budget cuts
About a dozen teachers Tuesday made one last effort at trying to persuade the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board to look in different directions for some of the cuts they’ll make at next week’s special meeting.
The board is set to cut almost $2.6 million from the school district budget on Tuesday.
Some of the larger cuts include five furlough days, saving $542,420 and three buy-back days for staff development, for an additional $325,000. But those two cuts alone would mean about a 4.4 percent pay cut for district employees.
Other cuts on the district list include funding for the Sonoma Valley Adult School ($267,000), reorganizing custodial services ($506,620) and eliminating class-size reduction in the second grade ($200,000).
A number of the teachers asked that the district not cut more than $500,000 from custodial services, which would effectively eliminate day-time custodians, requiring the use of maintenance staff to fill in when needed. Food services would also support some of the day custodial services in the cleanup of the lunchrooms.
Bob Gossett, a music teacher and head of the teachers’ union negotiating team, was hoping for more details about the custodial cuts. “You have to look at how the site is maintained,” he said. Gossett’s need for details resonated with some of the other teachers.
“We’ll have parents who will get upset with the dirtier schools,” said Janeth Garcia, a teacher at Sassarini.
But boardmember Helen Marsh asked, “What do we give up instead? Do we keep the custodians or increase K-1 class size?”
Loretta Carr, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at the Sonoma Valley Adult School, implored the board not to shut the adult school down.
“I’m disappointed and saddened that the Sonoma Valley Adult School will close,” she said. “Nine teachers with 54 years of teaching at the school will lose their jobs.”
Carr called the decision “shortsighted,” said she would quit if it meant that the school would stay open. She said she was glad that La Luz might pick up some of the ESL classes, and said, “the mission of education belongs to the school district.”
Pam Garramone, principal of the adult school, said she has been looking for outside funding to keep the school open, but hasn’t been successful. “La Luz wouldn’t be able to serve the numbers (of students) that we serve,” she said, adding that adult schools in Napa and Petaluma are similarly impacted and wouldn’t be able to take up the slack.
While Garramone has looked into charging a tuition fee for some classes, she reminded the board that it can’t charge for GED classes.
After listening to comments, the board had its say.
Cam Hawing pointed out that, according to his calculations, the elementary schools would take a $260,000 hit, the high school a $160,000 hit, the middle schools would lose $120,000, the district office $100,000, while staff would take an $860,000 hit and services would take a $1 million hit. “We’re cutting services the most,” he said. “And we may have to repeat this next year. It just rips my heart.”
The other board members were equally as glum in their assessments.
“We have bad choices,” said Dan Gustafson, “we’re trying to make the worst choice better.”
Gustafson said his son, who plays middle school basketball, is heartbroken that his dad is going to eliminate middle school sports. “I told him, ‘you can play basketball, but people are going to lose their jobs.’”
Hawing said that the district and the board doesn’t have the answers right now. “This is a painful process,” he said. Nobody’s happy. And next year, we may have to cut about the same.”
Nicole Ducarroz said the process is a “work in progress.”
“If something’s not working out, it doesn’t mean we can’t come back and revamp,” she said.
Marsh painted an equally glum picture.
“Next year, the year after and the year after that could even be worse,” she said. “Nothing is getting better, it’s getting worse. Closing the adult school is short-sighted. But we don’t have the money to do what makes sense.”
And board President Gary DeSmet, saying that it was all painful, said he wishes he could take the school board meeting to the Capitol steps in Sacramento, but even then he wasn’t sure he would get a legislative audience.
The board will make the cuts final at a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, in the Community Meeting Room, 177 First St. W.