The standing-room-only audience at the Lodi Unified School District's special budget meeting had an air of gloomy resignation Tuesday night.
News that the swimming pools would probably close in the winter did nothing to lift their spirits, and even peppy computer graphics could not lift the mood.
District and school board officials met to work toward a decision on how best to cut $10.5 million from the district's $210 million budget. The somber and attentive crowd listened to the nearly 90-minute presentation by district Superintendent Bill Huyett, in which he detailed the proposed cuts that are required as a result of the state's budget problems.
"We have to reduce what we do, and not try to do the same things with fewer people," Huyett said.
The cuts amount to 5 percent of the district's budget. However, $38 million of the total budget is allocated to "categorical" spending, which is mandated by the legislature and cannot be cut. Subtracting the categorical spending, the proposed cuts are 6.1 percent of the remaining "unrestricted" budget.
The district's proposed cuts include the elimination of more than 52 full-time equivalent teacher positions and 25 classified employee FTEs. Classified employees include food service workers, custodians, maintenance workers, groundskeepers, paraprofessionals who assist in the classroom, bus drivers, school secretaries, and campus security monitors.
Because of turnover, the district hires between 150 and 180 teachers every year, and that attrition will account for many of the required cuts, Huyett said.
"This is the hardest thing that a board of education will ever face," he said. "We are preparing for a tough fiscal situation brought on by the state and rising costs."
The proposed staff reductions include the elimination of seven assistant principals in the K-6, K-8 and 7-8 schools, and four district administration employees.
Huyett used a three-level model to describe the district's proposal to the board.
Level 1 reductions are those that the district staff felt would be the most balanced and effective. The proposals met the school board's criteria, which were to be effective, to maintain academic performance, and to ensure continued safety and future financial health for the district.
"These are the cuts that we would make if we had to balance the budget today," Huyett said.
In the Level 1 cuts, central administration and instruction are in line for a 3.52 percent reduction, close to the 3.66 percent recommended by the governor, Huyett said. Support staff and services took the biggest hit as a percentage, with an 18.89 percent reduction. Operations is listed for a 4.68 percent cut, and special education, for which there is little flexibility, is listed for a 0.75 percent cut.
The budget cuts in Level 2 did not meet the board's criteria as closely, and Level 3 cuts strayed even further, Huyett said. These cuts include the elimination of school crossing guards and cutting the number of school nurses by half. Level 3 cuts are a last resort, Huyett said.
"These are options where kids lose out quite a bit."
If implemented, Level 2 cuts would be in addition to the cuts in Level 1, and Level 3 cuts added to that total. Taken together, the three levels add up to a potential $21 million in cost reductions.
A significant issue on the minds of administrators and board members concerned the staff cuts in Levels 2 and 3.
According to state law, the district must send a notification letter to every employee in a position that may be eliminated, Huyett said.
The dilemma is that if the employees are not properly notified, the positions cannot be cut. However, since the possible reductions in Levels 2 and 3 were relatively unlikely, the notifications might unnecessarily upset the employees receiving them. The decision about notification was left to the board, whose members expressed various opinions.
When the time came for the board to comment and ask questions of the district, they seemed prepared for bad news but slightly shocked by the specifics.
"We are all called upon to sacrifice, and the presentation has touched all of us," board Vice President Norm Mowery said.
Trustee Ken Mullen asked why the funding for sports was not cut, and asked about the senior project requirement. Huyett responded that the district did not consider sports, but that ultimately everything was in on the table, even sports. Regarding the senior project, Huyett said the district considered it to be a graduation requirement, and decided not to touch it.
"We are better off facing it head on, and doing it right," Trustee Cliff Mettler said. "It is sad, after all you have done to have to slash and burn."
Trustee Ken Davis said he needed time to process the information, since this was the first time the board had seen it.
"We are all a little shocked," he said.
Davis expressed concern about the effect of the cuts on the students.
"We already have some kids out there who have lost some of their education, and we don't need to compound that."
The district's budget advisory committee meets today to begin reviewing the various proposals. By March 15, all certificated employees that may be subjected to layoffs must be formally notified, and final layoff notices must be sent out by May 11. In May, the governor releases his revisions to the state budget, and the state is required to adopt the budget in June.
The board's next meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday at John Muir Elementary School, 2303 Whistler Way, Stockton.
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