District officials delivered the straight talk this week on the
school budget and the hard decisions to come, including publicly
acknowledging their serious consideration of closing a school and
increasing class size in the lower grades.
District officials delivered the straight talk this week on the school budget and the hard decisions to come, including publicly acknowledging their serious consideration of closing a school and increasing class size in the lower grades.
During three meetings, one each night Tuesday and Wednesday with a third scheduled for Thursday night, officials kicked off the budget discussions with a look back at the summer budget cuts, a review of likely mid-year cuts and an estimate of the cuts to come.
About 200 people combined for Tuesday and Wednesday nights attended, mostly administrators and teachers with a few parents.
Here are the numbers: $2.6 million and $3.7 million. The $2.6 million is how much the district is sloughing off the current year’s budget, in addition to the $3 million in cuts made at the beginning of the year that resulted in 15 layoffs.
Deputy Superintendent Bonnie Tognazzini led the meetings, and described near fiscal disaster with the Morgan Hill Unified School District having to hold onto two pots of money.
The district has frozen $5.2 million, $2.6 million each from the general fund and categorical programs, like school supplies and school counselors. These numbers are still a guessing game. Since state legislators haven’t settled on their budget, no California school district knows how much money it will get from the state and in what funds.
“We just don’t know what it’s going to look like,” Tognazzini said.
Mid-year layoffs will be avoided, though, Tognazzini said. Next year, they’re almost a foregone conclusion.
The $3.7 million is a huge number, she said. After a long meeting Monday, officials could only come up with savings totaling $1.56 million for next year. That number, less than half of expected necessary cuts, includes $500,000 tucked away from this school year; consolidating a school, either Burnett or P.A. Walsh elementary schools, a savings of $400,000; eliminating kindergarten class size reduction for a $150,000 savings; and myriad general fund reductions totaling $250,000.
Finally, a one-day furlough for all district staff from teachers to administrators would save $260,000. This day would be one of the four days teachers are paid for by contract for preparation for the school year and other staff needs; there would still be 180 instructional days.
A furlough would have to be negotiated through the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers and the other two unions the district contracts with.
“We are just praying that the state gives us flexibility,” she said, referring to the school’s ability to choose what it will do.
The choices will be difficult, but the district has to be “tough,” she said. Tognazzini asked that parents and district employees be courteous as they work through the fiscal disaster.
“We are trying to survive,” she said. “We sometimes circle the wagon and shoot inwards, but this is a different ball game.”
Although the meetings were just the initial, informative meetings, the hints of a long battle were evident. Parents wanted to know how a school closing would be executed, and what programs were being considered for the chopping block and which would be salvaged, with Live Oak Emerald Regime band booster member Mike Tatarakis attending Tuesday night and Sobrato football father Brad Wagner attending Wednesday night.
Administrators weren’t making any promises. None of these possibilities are concrete, Tognazzini said
“We are about education,” Tognazzini said firmly. “We are about educating students. The things we do outside the classroom make them more well-rounded. Everybody knows that. But we have to look at everything.”
Despite the uncertainty, teacher and union officer Theresa Sage, who is a member of the district’s budget committee, assured the crowd gathered in Martin Murphy Middle School’s library Wednesday night that they would reach the $3.7 million target.
“I have the utmost confidence that we will reach that number and there will not be a state takeover,” Sage said.